A Mess of Contradictions

My small group finally watched lesson 10 of The Truth Project, The American Experiment: Stepping Stones. In this lesson, Del Tackett claimed that Christians used biblical principles as the foundation for America’s republic and that believers today must carry on that experiment if America is to survive and succeed. I knew before watching the video that I disagree with Del Tackett’s claim that God has a divine design for government. I believe that in trying to “take America back for God” through political means, Christians have done great harm to Christianity and evangelism. Nevertheless, watching the lesson motivated me to dig deeper into God’s truths.

Religion and Morality

The video for Lesson 10 began with Dr. Tackett speaking outside the normal classroom setting. He said there were going to be three ground rules for the lesson: he would not seek to deify America, he would not try to deify the Founding Fathers, and he would not cast blame on non-Christians.

Tackett began by discussing the role that religion once played in childhood education and in well-respected higher educational institutions like Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton. He quoted Gouverneur Morris, a contributing author of the Constitution, who said that “religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man toward God.” He quoted Noah Webster: “In my view, the Christian Religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed…no truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian Religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privilege of a free people.”

Before he spoke at length about the founding fathers, Tackett described how his own understanding of the nation’s religious and moral foundations evolved when he went to Washington, D.C. to work in the George H. W. Bush administration. He observed that there were many religious murals in the Capital rotunda. He found himself reflecting on Revelation 2:5. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

He said that he watched a reenactment of George Washington’s Farewell Address and it was then that he understood that as a child, he had been lied to about the nation’s religious history.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

George Washington

Tackett then presented quotes about religion and morality from several founding fathers or influential thinkers including John Adams, Benjamin Rush, Samuel Adams, Charles Carroll, and Patrick Henry. Several expressed the view that religion and morality are the foundation for an enduring republic and that liberty is not possible without morality.

the only foundation for…a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.

Benjamin Rush

In his blog about The American Experiment, Elliot Ritzema notes that “Christianity was not the only influence in the founding of the United States, but one of many…” While Tackett demonstrated that many of the founding fathers believed that religion and morality were important for preserving liberty, he did not prove that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical principles.

In an ideal world, government would be based on a sound moral principles and all government officials would be virtuous. In reality, even our greatest heroes had feet of clay. I admire John Adams, but he was proud, hot-tempered, and envious of his peers. I admire Thomas Jefferson’s views on liberty and equality and yet he owned slaves and was very self-indulgent.

If we are to learn anything from history, it is imperative that Christians be truthful about our messy and contradictory history.

Idolatry

Can patriotism become idolatry? Patriotism is not a bad thing. We should be grateful for the blessings of liberty. But when patriotism combines with political ideology, it often supplants the gospel.

When this happens, debates begin to rage about caring for the poor, the sick and the immigrant, debates which would be incomprehensible in any other era of the Church. When patriotism becomes an idol, the poor can become our enemies, the alien among us can become someone to be feared and the outcast can become someone we actively seek to marginalize. When patriotism becomes an idol, the “other” whom we despise is the least of these.

Zach Hunt, Relevant Magazine

Tackett pointedly said he would not deify America or the founding fathers. When he exalted America’s founding fathers for being religious and moral based on a few selected people and a few selective quotes, he engaged in the same sort of historical revisionism that he often complains about. He presented a glorified, false image.

Without providing any examples, Tackett said that there is a deep hatred of America in liberal educational institutions and that it is now in vogue to hate America. In his blog post, Elliot Ritzema quoted Tackett as he explained why he thinks there is a rise in hatred for America:

Darkness doesn’t overtake light; light overtakes darkness. Why this rise of hatred for America? Why is this historic revisionism going on? If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. If you do not have a heart for her, if you don’t have a passion for her, you can learn all you want about Christian worldview… but you won’t do diddly doo for her… If Jesus removes the lampstand, we will become a dark nation like many who have fallen before us.

Del Tackett

Think about these words. If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. I would argue that if Satan can deceive people, especially Christians, about the true purpose and meaning of Christianity, he has won a major battle for our souls. If he can convince Christians to use the power of the sword instead of the power of the cross, he has won a major battle for our souls. If he can take Christ out of Christianity, he has won a major battle for our souls.

In equating America to the Church in Revelations 2:5, Tackett idolizes America. While America has done many good things to help other nations, in comparing her to a light on the hill (Matthew 5:14-16), he exalts a nation that is far from righteous. Pew Research reports that only 39% of Americans are highly religious, and a small fraction of those attend church regularly or read the Bible.

Tackett also broke his own rule about casting blame on non-believers, blaming liberal educational institutions for somehow spreading hatred of America and blaming both Charles Darwin and Christopher Langdell, a Dean of Harvard Law School, for the evolution of law school teaching to a case study approach. In suggesting that anyone who criticizes America hates her, Tackett implied that America is above all criticism. This too is idolatrous.

Grief and Hope

According to Tackett, the founding fathers implemented an experimental form of government based on religion, specifically Christianity. Tackett grieves for America. “America has largely forgotten God and denied the validity of her biblically based Christian roots.” Tackett asked believers to consider how far we have fallen as a nation and to take deliberate steps to salvage it. Yes, do consider how far we have fallen. American Christians who believe that government’s role is to enforce morality overwhelmingly chose a godless, amoral man to lead this nation.

I also grieve for America but not in the same way as Tackett. I grieve not for the soul of the nation but for the souls of Americans and for Christians who have been led astray by false teachings. I grieve for those who come here thinking this country is a beacon of light only to have the door slammed shut in their faces. I grieve for Americans who will never hear the Good News because Christians have made Christianity so unappealing. I grieve because this nation is a mess of contradictions.

What did I get out of this lesson? The desire to seek a different kind of kingdom, where the King of kings and Lord of lords has the power to change people from the inside out. He will proclaim justice to the nations. In his name, the nations will put their hope. In his name, I put my hope.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
 A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
  In his name the nations will put their hope.

Matthew 12:18-21

The Truth Project – Conflating Politics and Religion

At the beginning of lesson nine of The Truth Project, Dr. Del Tackett predicted that many people would find themselves conflicted when contemplating his message. If we are conflicted, he concluded, it is because we have been taken captive by a lie. While Tackett claimed to expose liberal views as a lie, he proved to me how dangerous and hypocritical it is to conflate politics and religion as he selectively used scripture to support his conservative, neoliberal view of government.

This is because, as a result of the raging of the Cosmic Battle, many people in our day have been taken captive by the lie that the state, and not God, is to “go before us” as our savior and sustainer and the source of all good things. This discussion is calculated from beginning to end to expose and challenge this assumption. There are obvious implications here for the debate between proponents of “liberal” and “conservative” social policy (i.e., the “welfare state” and its opponents).

The Truth Project, The State – Whose Law?

Money

At the beginning of lesson nine of the Truth Project: The State – Whose Law?, Dr. Tackett told the story of James and Heidi, a couple who had a successful farm. Then they died in a car accident. A gang broke into their house and took half of their possessions. Tackett asks, is that stealing? Of course, everyone agrees that it is. Then he asks, what if the government came in and took half their property? Would that be stealing? Can the state steal? In presenting the estate tax as theft, Dr. Tackett made the argument that the government breaks God’s law by stealing.

Dr. Tackett used 1 Samuel 8 to support his belief that by taxing its citizens, the state takes what does not belong to it. When the people of Israel told Samuel they wanted a king to lead them, Samuel prayed about it. God told Samuel to listen to the people but to solemnly warn them about what the king will do. So Samuel told the people that the king will make you and your children his servants. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and give them to his people. He will take a tenth of your earnings and give it to his attendants. Dr. Tackett concludes that government takes the first fruits and tithes that are meant for God and redistributes them to others.

I don’t believe that the government steals by taxing my income or property. I willingly submit to the state’s authority to take a portion of my income to pay for public goods and services, fully aware that the government often misuses and wastes the public’s money. I believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

As Adam Metz points out in Revisiting the Truth Project, Tackett conveniently leaves out scripture that doesn’t support this views on the redistribution of wealth, for example, the Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25. Every fifty years, the people of Israel were to return property to its original owners or heirs and debts were to be forgiven.

It’s especially noteworthy that Tackett made no mention of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus made it very clear that we should not worry about money because God knows what we need. We shouldn’t be overly focused on accumulating earthly wealth. Jesus told a rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21).”

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21Matthew 6:19-20

Morality

Tackett asked whether the state can steal because “governments are capable of error and transgression and must be held accountable to a higher ethical law if they are to be prevented from wreaking havoc in the lives of the citizens entrusted to their oversight and care.” Tacket says that the purpose of government is “to punish evil and condone good.” He quoted Webster’s 1828 definition of the word politics and added emphasis to the words “preservation and improvement of their morals.”

The science of government; that part of ethics which consists in the regulation and government of a nation or state, for the preservation of its safety, peace and prosperity; comprehending the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strengths and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.

Politics definition from Websters Dictionary, 1828

I agree that government should be held accountable to high ethical standards and that government has a role in enforcing laws based on morality (e.g. laws against murder or stealing) and laws that preserve the safety of its citizens. But obviously, not everyone accepts God’s law as law. In a democracy, laws should be based on the will of the people.

Many conservative Christians want the government to enforce Biblical moral values. But if government forces people to comply with moral laws that they have not internalized as their own moral values – if compliance with law is not an act of submission and obedience to God – what good does it do? As Jasmin Patterson writes, legislating Biblical morality doesn’t change people and it often turns people away from Christ.

As Christians we have to ask what we are really after. Do we want people to look like they are changed by Jesus or do we want people to actually be changed by Jesus? Do we want to encourage people—albeit unintentionally—to have a form of godliness but reject the power of Christ that actually transforms their lives? (2 Timothy 3:5)

Jasmin Patterson, The Biblical Case Against ‘Legislating Morality’: Does it actually work?

Dr. Tackett warned about big government taking over other spheres of life – God, church, family, labor, education, etc. He said that God designed each social “sphere” for a particular purpose and each sphere has unique laws, roles, and responsibilities to fulfill its purpose.

Tackett warned that the “nanny state” or the “welfare state” causes people to look to the government as their “savior” and as the state tries to solve society’s problems, it substitutes itself for the family. In the study guide for lesson 7 (Sociology: The Divine Imprint), Dr. Tackett says as an aside, “by the way, I can find no biblical support for the position that the state has responsibility for the education of children.”

I find it baffling that Focus on the Family thinks the purpose of the government is the “preservation and improvement of the morals” of its citizens. What then is the purpose of the Church? What is the purpose of the family? If the Bible is silent on an issue such as public education, does that mean that it is against God’s will?

Modern-day Pharisees

Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 16:6

When I searched for commentary on TTP lesson nine, I found an honors thesis written in 2014 by Ben Jordan, a political science student at the University of Colorado: A Dangerous Conflation of Ideologies: the Nexus of Christianity and Neoliberalism. While the student who wrote the thesis was not a Christian, his conclusion is accurate. It is dangerous to conflate Christianity and politics.

On page 28 of the thesis, Jordan lists several themes that make up the neoliberal Christian theology: private property, decreased size or reach of government, decreased taxes and opposition to redistribution of wealth, individualism and self-reliance, and Manichaean theology or the “cosmic battle.” Jordan analyzed the The Truth Project as an example of religious dogma that is used to shape a “conservative political-social-economic ideology.”

Jordan notes that it does not make sense for Christians to hold the neoliberal worldview, a religious ideology based on economic ideology. Even a non-Christian knows that the Bible teaches about the dangers of greed and of the love of money, the importance of caring for one another (including foreigners and the poor), and of our stewardship of the earth. “If Christianity is framed the way Focus on the Family is framing it, then neoliberal policy preferences will follow.” Christians who embrace the neoliberal worldview want to rollback environmental and labor regulations, to eliminate social programs, and to promote the capitalist, free market system.

Jordan observes that masses of Christians must be ignorant of the “fundamental lessons outlined in their own scared text” because if the Bible says “the complete opposite of what it is being used to justify, what else can ideological shaping do?” To put it simply, when Christianity is shaped by those who have a political agenda, it makes Christianity look really bad. “The Christian ideology, when framed as TTP has, is based on a great deal of sexism, homophobia, militarism, xenophobia, nationalism or patriotism, imperialism, racism, and a general distaste for those different than them.”

Randal Rauser wrote an article called Learning in a Time of (Cultural) War: Indoctrination in Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project. He wrote about the dangers of binary thinking, which “secures an uncritical acceptance of certain assumptions while inhibiting subsequent critical reflection on those assumptions.” He notes that it is an enormous task to educate the Christian laity but TTP subverts the pursuit of truth for its own ideological ends.

The first thing we need in the midst of a perceived culture war is sober self-criticism to ensure that we truly are people living out the truth (1 John 1:6). In addition, we need to recognize that the battle is the Lord’s, so that we do not capitulate to the tempting pragmatism that seeks victory at the expense of truth.

Randal Rauser

It only takes a small amount of yeast to transform a ball of dough. In the same way, it takes only a small amount of false teaching to spread and damage the Church. When Christians conflate politics and religion, they distort what it really means to follow Christ. That is dangerous because souls are at stake.

The Truth Project’s Battle Against Science

My Bible study group recently completed the fifth lesson of the The Truth Project, Science: What is Truth? Prior to watching the lesson, I was skeptical because many Christians seem to be anti-science. Dr. Del Tackett acknowledged the skepticism in the audience. He admitted that scientific investigation is a valid way of ascertaining truth. Then he asserted that man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie (evolution). Although he made some valid points, in defending one view of creation and categorically condemning another, he threw out the baby with the bathwater.

The apostle Paul said that though what may be known about God is plain to all of us, man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Tackett argues that man has transformed straightforward scientific inquiry from a search for truth into a philosophy that excludes the Creator; central to this anti-God worldview is Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

Before I get to the rather antagonistic claim that The Truth Project makes about people who believe evolution is true, I want to summarize some of the good points.

The Work of His Hands

Dr. Tackett started out with David’s beautiful psalm about the heavens proclaiming the work of God’s hands and revealing knowledge of his creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19: 1-4

Tackett presented a compelling case for intelligent design versus randomness. He asked us to imagine the likelihood of forming two lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet by randomly dropping Scrabble tiles on a tabletop. Of course, you would also have to imagine that mere chance could account for the tiles having letters on them.

Tackett asked the important philosophical question, why is there something rather than nothing? We all know that we can’t create something from nothing. But I believe that there had to be an ultimate beginning, an ultimate source of all material and living things. Christians believe that God is the ultimate source; the Latin phrase creatio ex nihilo refers to God creating something from nothing.

My favorite part of the lesson on science was a video that illustrated the activities of the complex “machinery” within cells that converts DNA into specific types of proteins. I believe that DNA is undeniable evidence of an intelligent creator but my appreciation of the complexity of genetic codes was enhanced by seeing an illustration of the intelligent processes of transcription and translation. How in the world can this sophisticated design be the result of chance?

The Truth Project’s Battle Against Evolution

The Truth Project teaches that there is a cosmic battle between God’s truth and the lies of the world. On the subject of science, Dr. Tackett claims that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory is central to an atheistic philosophy that excludes God as the creator.

The lesson guide summarized Tackett’s message about science as follows:

…fallen man ignores the plain evidence of objective scientific inquiry and promotes the atheistic philosophy of evolutionary theory primarily because he is determined to do as he pleases without answering to a higher authority.

The Truth Project, Science: What is True?

After making this generalization about people who believe in evolution, the lesson guide goes on to say that if group participants are uncomfortable with this claim, it is “precisely because it hits so close to home.”

Dr. Tackett used an inflammatory quote from atheist C. Richard Bozarth (“evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’s earthly life was supposedly made necessary”) to support his claim that evolutionists are antagonistic towards anyone who questions whether evolution is a theory or a fact.

Dr. Tackett spent much of the lecture presenting The Truth Project’s arguments against evolutionary theory, which are primarily based on the concept of irreducible complexity and on the lack of fossil records.

Critical Thinking Under Attack

Before I watched the lesson on science, I was aware that the Truth Project has been criticized for indoctrination. Still, I watched the science videos with an open mind and found some positive points. I can understand why Dr. Tackett throws out the claims of atheists like Bozarth. But he also throws out the critical thinking of people of faith who disagree with his beliefs about evolution.

After I watched the lesson on science, I was curious about why people have issues with TTP’s teaching on this subject. I read a critique from a rather snarky mathematician/attorney. I can understand why Dr. Tackett ruffled his feathers but his response turned me off. He ridiculed Dr. Tackett and said that if your degree is in business management (like Dr. Tackett), you have no business refuting evolution. I have an MBA but that doesn’t mean that I can’t comprehend scientific concepts.

Dorothy Boorse, a Professor of Biology at Gordon College, wrote a review of the TTP’s lesson on science that was both respectful and comprehensive. She says she wants to heal “the rift people perceive between science and Christian faith.” There are a wide range of views in the Christian scientific community and Boorse would have liked to see these views presented. Tackett discussed only extreme views, which present a false dichotomy between worldviews. He dismissed evolution but did not provide a legitimate alternative. He also defined and used words incorrectly. Boorse notes that evolution makes no philosophic claims. It is not a worldview that denies the existence of God. That would be scientific naturalism or materialism.

A Christian blogger, Elliott Ritzema, came to the same conclusion about the science lesson on his blog, All is Grist. While he agrees with much of what Tackett says about science, in attacking evolutionary theory, Dr. Tackett has “chosen the wrong bad guy.” The battle should be against scientific naturalism.

I think that Del is right in many of the things that he says about science, but he has unfortunately chosen the wrong “bad guy.” The bad guy here is not the theory of evolution, which, as I mentioned, many Christians who work in the sciences believe in. No, the bad guy is scientific naturalism, which says that the only real things are the things we can examine through science. This is the worldview that needs to be addressed.

Elliot Ritzema, All Is Grist

Another concerned Christian created a website called The Truth Problem, addressing his concerns with the entire TPP video series. The site includes a Science Fact Check and provides links to other Christian points of view. In Creation & Evolution – A Case for Inclusivity, he makes the point that we should be “humble and open-minded especially towards Christians who take the Biblical creation account metaphorically.”

Although I have been critical of Dr. Tackett myself, I like him. We’re on the same side, though I suspect he would throw me out with the bathwater too.

Worship in the Spirit and in Truth

The inspiration for my blog title, Innermost Being, was Psalm 51:6 (NASB):  Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. I am naturally inclined to self-reflection; my innermost being is my comfort zone. I believe that I grow spiritually by being honest with myself about my sinfulness and by seeking God’s wisdom. Truth is more important to me now than it ever has been. Truth isn’t just a quality I desire in myself; I seek God’s truth and truth is the lens through which I see and evaluate the world around me.

My small group has just started to study The Truth Project, a Focus on the Family study led by Del Tackett. As the only progressive Christian in my group, I see the world differently than everyone else. I am not interested in engaging in the culture wars of our time. I have seen the casualties of this war – wounded souls who miss out on the grace of God because too many Christians put moral law above God’s grace.

Instead, I am interested in holding to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Del Tackett says that Truth is at the heart of the Cosmic Battle – the battle between God’s truth and the lies of the world. I have long sensed that there is a cosmic battle between good and evil. Truth is good; lies are evil. I believe that God is the Father of Truth and Satan is the father of lies.

In the first lesson of The Truth Project, the intriguing question Tackett asked was this: why did Jesus come into the world? Most of us think that he came to the world to save it, which is true. But when he appeared before Pilate he said, “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me (John 18:37).” 

As I dive into this study, I am on guard against being pulled into a culture war. That sort of battle allows a bitter root to grow in the inmost being. But my mind and heart are open to the Word of God, to the Spirit of Truth. I will listen to Jesus and hold to his teaching.

There is no better time than now to seek Truth. The world distorts truth. The world rejects the truth. The world exchanges truth for a lie. The time has come for true worshipers to worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  – John 4:23