Syncretism vs Christian Agrarianism

I have attended Pentecostal churches, Methodist churches and for a couple of years, way in the past, Marlene and I were involved in a church that focused heavily on deliverance ministry. But for most of my churchgoing days I’ve attended an independent Baptist church.

Some who have read my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, and this blog have mistakenly assumed that I attend a Reformed church. It is understandable. My faith has been fed and my beliefs more clearly defined in recent years by several Reformed Christians, starting with Doug Phillips who I was, like so many others, introduced to through his speaking at homeschool conventions.

Before long I was reading the writings of Reformed Christians like Rousas Rushdoony, George Grant, Gary DeMar, and R.C. Sproul. I even tackled John Calvin’s “Institutes.” Then, maybe two years ago, I received a Draught Horse Press catalog with a sample copy of “Basement Tape” recordings from The Highlands Study Center. That was my introduction to R.C. Sproul, Jr. (son of R.C., Sr.) and, incidentally, Rick Saenz of Cumberland Books. There was a clear agrarianism to the ministry and message of The Highlands Study Center and that was, as you might imagine, an attraction to me.

From the beginning, R.C., Jr. struck me as a bit of a rebel—a Christian enigma that, frankly, still confuses me sometimes. I’ve noticed that there are people on the internet who have a harsh opinion of R.C. I have no reason to feel that way. Though I may question some things, I find myself liking the man because I think his heart is in the right place. Besides that, I see similarities between him and I. For example, we are both fallible, and a little stubborn, and learning as we go—sometimes the hard way.

Another thing I like about R.C., Jr. is when I read some of the things he has written, I find myself thinking harder about topics and viewpoints that deserve some hard thought. More often than not, I have to read his writings a couple of times, (or more) to get it. That’s because I’m a little dense (Really. I am.), and because there is an element of “riddle” to much of what R.C. writes. The riddle comes, I think, because R.C. writes from his ingrained Reformed perspective while I read from my ingrained Baptist perspective. I’ve also noticed that it helps to understand R.C if you have a good understanding of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Nevertheless, I was reading an article by R.C in the May/June 2006 issue of Every Thought Captive (a periodical published by The Highlands Study Center) and I thought it was particularly perspicacious. It is titled Worshiping The Living GOPP and I am going to tell you about it here because of the strong Christian agrarian connection.

The article is about syncretism, a word I never understood until I read the article. Fact is, I may have never even heard it before. But it is a word I think all Christians need to understand. Here is a quote from the article...

”One could even argue that there is a cause and effect relationship between the showering of God's grace upon His people, and their turns to idolatry. We grow accustomed to His grace, and forget Him. Well, we don't exactly forget Him. Instead we dress Him up in the latest fashions, refashioning the God of the Ages into the god of the age. That is, idolatry in Israel was almost never the wholesale abandonment of God, but was almost always idolatry in the form of syncretism, the blending together of the true and the false.”

Now that you understand what syncretism is (if you did not before), let’s find out what GOPP is...

”Our syncretism is simple enough—we worship the living God, and the god of this age, the god of personal peace. We meld these two polar visions into one, and then wonder why our lives are so confused. We are torn asunder, trying desperately to prove Jesus wrong, that we can indeed serve two masters.”

Did you see it? GOPP is the God Of Personal Peace, which is the god of this age. I tend to think of it as the God Of Personal Peace And Prosperity, but I suppose GOPPAP is too weighty of an acronym. Besides that, most mistakenly think prosperity is a necessary ingredient for peace, so GOPP is just fine.

In any event, the way I read it, in his own unique way, R.C. is asserting that the modern church has compromised (syncertized) with a modern culture that is at odds with the one true God and His word, and I couldn’t agree more. Here’s R.C. again...

”There is but one way to break free from this syncretism, this serving of two masters, one false, the other Truth, and that is to worship the Truth. There is but one way to stop pursuing any false god, and that is to pursue the living God.”

Now that is well said and I personally think this pursuit is best accomplished within the agrarian paradigm, which includes, by definition, living simply. The idea of living simply is a recurring theme with R.C. and I suspect he may be taking some heat for emphasizing the simple life because he goes on to clarify what he means...

”This is all we've ever meant when we've encouraged people to live the simple life. It has never been our intention to guilt people for any blessings they might enjoy, (nor to guilt ourselves for blessings we enjoy. All of us, on a historical and world scale are filthy rich) to suggest that if you don't think Green Acres is the place to be, then you are outside the camp. Poverty and agrarianism have never been the goal.”

”The simplicity isn't ultimately about the stuff, but about the goal. Any and all things that bring us closer to Him, that's the simple life. Any and all things that draw us closer to her [GOPP], that's what we pluck out that we might inherit eternal life. The simple life is one simple goal, serving our King. It is nothing more, and nothing less.”

This simplicity also includes the concept of separation which, it seems to me, is not only the antithesis of syncretism, but the sure remedy. R.C. continues...

”If we master simple, have we not already mastered separate? If they are living for growing their 401k's and we are living for seeing 401 grandkids, though we share the same earth, though we are still in the world, have we not shown ourselves to not be of the world? If the allures of the temptress of the god of this age are unheard by us, because we can hear only the Master's voice, will we not look distinct, different? And again, if we do this together, as a body, then will not our light so shine before men, that they by His grace might be drawn to the light?”

”We're not separate because our cars are held together by duct tape. We're separate because we do not measure our joy by how much duct tape is on our cars. To put it more simply, we're separate because we are simple, because we enjoy the peace of serving only one master.”

Simple, separate, and deliberate are three intertwined concepts that serve to define the teaching of The Highlands Study Center. Having touched on simple and separate, R.C. now addresses deliberate...

”Here is where it is hardest. To be deliberate is to be conscious enough to think through not just means but ends. It is to be alert enough to realize that whether we hear him or not, the devil is always whispering in our ear. He is always enticing us, pimping for the god of this age. To be deliberate is to recognize that the normal, evangelical life is precisely what we've looked at, idolatrous syncretism of the highest magnitude. So let us learn to separate the voice of the Master from the voice of the one calling in the streets. Let us learn to distinguish between His good gifts, and her illicit favors.”

Okay, I confess, when he says normal evangelical life is idolatrous syncretism of the highest magnitude, a see a red flag. I wonder if he might be talking about me? I’ve always considered myself something of an evangelical Christian. But I must not be “normal” in that regard, at least as R.C. sees it. I say that because I agree with everything he said right up to that point. I also probably agree with with the point. And I surely do agree with R.C.’s conclusion...

”Serve her who promises the world, and we shall have nothing. Serve Him, acknowledging we have nothing, and He will give us His peace.”

Yes! there it is—the whole essence of the Christian agrarian good life is summed up in those two sentences.

For over a year, this blog has celebrated things like family closeness, rural living, gardening, homemade bread, hunting, pastured poultry and all sorts of other exciting agrarian endeavors. But make no mistake about it, those things are not my goal, nor are they the goal I have for the family God has given me to lead. Those things do not bring peace in the midst of a troubled and lost world. True, lasting peace comes only from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.

And Christian agrarianism is just an outward expression of our desire to live a life in accordance with His word, a life that eschews syncretism by being simple, separate, and deliberate, a life that serves, ultimately, to bring glory to God.


The excerpted quotations above have been used with permission.


Anonymous said...

Herrick I liked reading your articles. Not that I'd read all of them but I'd read a few. But everytime you talk about R.C. Sproul Jr I get a little rankled. YOu seem to really like the guy even though his rep is in the toilet. You know he's been defrocked? So saying nice things about him is like saying nice things about Jimmy Swagart after he got himself defrocked. That simple separate deliberate thing is a good message. A lot of people were attracted to join that Saint Peters church because of it. Then they figured out that R.C. JR. don't live what he preaches. If he lived what he preaches he wouldn't have done those things that got himself defrocked.

Anonymous said...

I can see why some of the teachings are attractive, but without knowing a great deal about Sproul, intuitively there is something repulsive about the whole thing too. I have found much of the writings and followers of these folks to be great excercise of intellect. I suppose if a person enjoys theoretical work when it comes to philosophies then this is good. After listening to or reading writings from these folks, I feel like I have returned to the classical age in Greece. There is a lot of theory espoused but, I find it to be repulsive because there is very little action, real work. It appears that some are in love so in love with the ideas that there is little energy left to do the real work. Many times when I read writings related by some of these folks I get frustrated. I wish I could put my finger on it. There is great pride in the intellect to the expense of common sense. They often accuse those who are practically living out what they are preaching as having too much common sense at the expense of intellect.

G. Telford-Armstrong said...

Apparently he was defrocked over differences in doctrinal issues between his parish and his denomination, not a moral failure such as Jimmy Swaggart's. Show the man a little grace - none of us and I mean NONE of us fully lives what we preach. Herrick, thanks for posting this as it has caused me to check out Sproul's site. I'll bet there is some good stuff to glean.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Barry--
I'm glad we agree that living life simple, separate, and deliberate is a good thing. That was my main point with this blog entry. I believe those things, as expressed in R.C.'s article are scriptural and fundamental to understanding Christian agrarianism.

My words were not a wholesale endorsement of the man.
But when he is right, he is right, and as you say, his message in this regard is a good one. I don't know anyone else espousing these things, except maybe Michael Bunker, and I like him too.

This does not mean I will move my family to Bristol. It doesn't even mean I'll be attending a Reformed church. It simply means that I think what he wrote in the article I quoted from is profoundly insightful. That is the main point here.

It's been my observation that the theoretical leads to the practical. Ideas have consequences. John Calvin was one heavy duty thinker and it was his thoughts that influenced, among other things, the Pilgrims and the Puritans, who put their Calvanistic beliefs into practice when they established America as a Christian nation. The historical connection is unmistakable.

Rushdoony's deep thinking was, in many people's minds, the spark that started the homeschooling movement in this country. Rushdoony also influenced Howard Phillips who has done a lot of practical good in the political realm. But more than that, Howard's son, Doug Phillips, has done so much through Vision Forum Ministries that it is mind boggling.

It seems to me that Francis Schafer, another great thinker, was a Reformed/Presbeterian type and his ideas have had incredible impact on people's lives. Impact that leads to real action and real change.

I do understand what you are saying because I've had (and sometimes still have) the same feelings. I'm not espousing Reformed/Presbeterian doctrine here. The main point of this post was that syncretism is something to be aware of and living a simple, separate, and deliberate Christian life is fundamental to the whole concept of Christian agrarianism.

I like the concept of "gleaning." It's very agrarian.

Thanks everyone for your comments. I welcome any and all comments about the main point of this posting. I do not want to throw stones at R.C. Sproul, Jr. That is not the main point. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Herrick:

I appreciate your thoughts about "thoughts". I think I am just a backwards person. What impacted me was reading the bible and applying it in my life. I had never heard of many of these thinkers, theorists or theologians at all. As I have read about them or their writings, I found myself puffing up a bit for my personal choices. I even felt a bit more godly. Perhaps, this just happened to me and doesn't happen to others. One thing I have witnessed is a bit of theivery going on. All across the nation, there are folks who are feeling a strong passionate urge to live a simple life on a farm or with a home based business. Over and over again folks report they came to this conclusion after reading the bible and growing closer to the Lord. The thievery involves stealing the glory from God and plunking His awesome work into man's contrived theories or movements. We want to identify a man as a leader of these notions not unlike the Isrealites need for and demand for a visible, three dimensional king. It is not man and his thinking capacity that is responsible for all the change I am seeing taking place in people's lives and in my own life for that matter. It is the work of God on the hearts of man who are yearning to hear Him and live by His laws. Developing all these philosophies may have a purpose, I don't want to be all or nothing about it, but it does seem to put more emphasis on man for the change rather than God. Theories and philosphies come and go, but the word of God endures forever. He never changes. I am thinking out loud here, but it something that is troubling me lately. I have also contributed to identifying this as "movement" in order to talk about what I am seeing. I now realize that was not a wise way to talk about it.


JBC said...

You might wish to consider reading Francis Schaeffer. He wrote from the '60s to the '80s. He wrote about worldviews. His work has some parallels to Rushdoony's.

He decried Christians who were principally concerned with "personal peace and affluence."

JB Chesser

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi JB,

Francis Schafer has had a profound impact on the worldview of many Christians and, as a result, on Christian culture— far more impact than the average Christian realizes. Many of the most effective Biblical teachers and leaders today were directly or indirectly influenced by Schaffer's work and life.

Unfortunately, many Christians do not even know what a worldview is, let alone given some thought to what their own personal worldview is.

You are right— I should reread and read more of Francis Schafer's works!

Thank you.

Patti said...

I have seen the word "Agrarian" defined by the users beliefs and convictions. "Your only an agrarian if you do or believe what I do" an agrarian is agrarian is is the Webster's definition...

agrarian: Pronunciation[uh-grair-ee-uhn]
–adjective 1. relating to land, land tenure, or the division of landed property: agrarian laws.
2. pertaining to the advancement of agricultural groups: an agrarian movement.
3. composed of or pertaining to farmers: an agrarian co-op.
4. rural; agricultural.
5. growing in fields; wild: an agrarian plant.
–noun 6. a person who favors the equal division of landed property and the advancement of agricultural groups.


h west said...

This is great stuff. Love this post. Have you ever read Wendell Berry? He is a MUST read regarding 'Christian Agrarianism'. 'The Art of the Commonplace' is a good place to start. Then, if you're into Francis Schaeffer, go read his son's stuff- Frank E. Shaeffer.

Christine said...

I'm so blessed that I have access to the blogs again! This post is perfect. From one dense person to another, you've helped me understand what RC wrote and put it in perspective. (I can't tell you how many times I tried reading the article, but it just didn't click- you made it click!)

And you've also summarized to some extent the battles I've been dealing with recently (described in latest post on new blogsite). It's not about what you're actually doing at the moment, but its about the final goal, as you put it so succintly in your final paragraph.

Thank you for bringing some clarity to my befuddled mind!

Unknown said...

Patti's definitions of agrarianism put me in mind of G.K. Chesterton. Any comments on his Christian worldview?
P.S. We butchered our first chicken using your tutorial today! Many thanks. Couldn't have done it without you.

Anonymous said...

No one does syncretism as well as the roman "church" excellent example of it in action.