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Memo to Protestant Evangelicals: Do Your Homework Before You Go into Print
Dec. 10, 2012
Basic to leadership is the requirement to prepare for it.
In a new book by British evangelical John Petley, Providence, Piety and Power, we read the following:
Socialism has been undermined by politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and by economists like FA Hayek and Milton Friedman, but I am not aware of any book that has attempted to evaluate it from a Biblical perspective (p. 11).
Petley is a professional politician. He is a member of the anti-Europran Union Independence Party. In 2005, he received 2.2% of the vote.
He was an atheist for most of his life. A decade ago, he became an Evangelical Protestant. He is now dedicated to defending his politics in terms of Christianity.
To do this, he must show that Christian presuppositions lead to the same conclusions as humanist presuppositions, which he previously held. He also must show why his presuppositions are more reliable than humanist presuppositions. He knows this. This is why he calls for a Christian worldview.
But he is new at all this. He actually says that no one in the Evangelical camp has provided such an assessment of socialism. He implies that he is the first. Here is the most important economic and political debate of modern times -- the free market vs. socialism -- and he thinks he is the first to provide a Bible-based solution.
It is not a good idea to trumpet your originality if, in fact, you are a late-comer who has failed to do your homework. This is Petley's problem. It is not that he is original, as he claims. It is that he is uninformed.
He includes a bibliography. I am mentioned once. He has the book's title wrong. He has the publication date wrong: 1992, not 1982. (http://bit.ly/gndomcov)
There is no reference to my first book, Marx's Religion of Revolution (1968, 1989). (http://bit.ly/gnmror)
There is no reference to this department: http://www.garynorth.com/public/department57.cfm
There is no reference to David Chilton's book, Successful Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators, which was published in 1981, and which has been online for free for about 12 years. (http://bit.ly/dcsider)
There is no reference to Joel McDurmon's God versus Socialism (American Vision, 2009).
There is no reference to any of Lord Brian Griffiths' books. He was Thatcher's economics advisor. Before that, he taught at the London School of Economics and also served as Dean of the City University Business School in London. He is well known in British evangelical circles.
There is no reference to Calvin Beisner's books.
There is no mention of R. J. Rushdoony.
There is no mention of Herbert Schlossberg's Idols for Destruction (1983).
He claims that his book presents a biblical worldview. I have heard this claim for over 45 years. But his book doesn't offer one. It does what previous anti-socialist books written by Christians have done: it chronicles the history of socialism. "Socialism is bad. Believe me, it really is. I have quoted a lot of anti-socialist humanists to prove this. Furthermore, I'm a Christian. Thus, I have presented a biblical worldview."
The tip-off is the Scripture index. It's missing.
He devoted three and a half pages to a consideration of the Israelites' civil government (pp. 34-37). He drew no conclusions. That constitutes the only discussion of the Bible in 330 pages of text. The rest of the book is devoted to history. He concludes that socialism is bad. He's right. But he has said nothing new.
This is incomplete scholarship. So be it. There is lots of that in evangelicalism. It claims to offer what it fails to offer. There has been lots of that over the last half century. But why do men spend years researching a topic they do not understand, and then insist on going into print with a large neon sign? "I don't know what I'm talking about, but I love Jesus!"
It took me about 17,000 hours to research and write An Economic Commentary on the Bible. (http://www.garynorth.com/public/department158.cfm) The total number of pages is 8,555, or almost exactly two hours per page. It took me at least that much time -- probably twice that amount of time -- to write the newsletters, raise the funds, and publish about 70 support books. (http://www.garynorth.com/public/department78.cfm) I did not get paid a dime for any of this work.
That work was required to prepare me to begin my final three books (fat, medium, and short) on Christian economics, plus a book on economic epistemology.
Then there must be videos, Sunday school courses, and homeschool courses.
This is the minimum of what is required. This is what few Protestant evangelicals are willing to do.
For a politician, the book is far above-average. But it annoys me when Christian social and political authors who come in the name of expertise are utterly unaware of the extensive volume of work that is in print and online. "I never heard of it" is not a valid answer in the world of search engines.
Evangelicals are not taken seriously in academia. There is a valid reason for this attitude of contempt. "These people do not do their homework."
I received a letter on December 11 from a man who claims to be the publisher of the book. He wants modifications in my review. I will provide them.
I am writing in response to your piece on John Petley, I am the publisher of his book, 'Providence, Piety and Power'. First of all, thank you for reading it. There are a number of what I believe to be inaccuracies in your article which you might like to amend.
1. John is not a professional politician. He did stand for UKIP but when he was in Brussels he worked as a researcher, not a politician. He has since left the party and is now an editor. His original training was in computing, he has never had a job as a politician. Incidentally, UKIP came second in the last European elections in the UK and is no longer the minor fringe party that it was in its early days.
I said that the book is good, given the man's status as a politician. If he is an editor, then the book is not so good. I retract.
2. John has been a christian since at least 1984 when I first knew him. He was converted I believe a few years earlier when attending Oxford University from a Roman Catholic background.
I misunderstood. Petley writes that he went to Brussels as a researcher. He joined the UKIP Party in 2001. "Before arriving in Brussels, I had read only one or two books written by Christians about political issues. I guess this is hardly surprising, for there are very few books in existence, certainly on my side of the Atlantic" (p. 9). I assumed that he was ignorant, because he was a new Christian. He must not have known of Abraham Kuyper, who founded the Anti-Revolutionary Party in 1879, and who was elected Prime Minister of the Netherlands in 1901. He wrote voluminously on politics and Christian social theory. He started two newspapers and a university to promote these views. Petley cited his Lectures on Calvinism (1898) in his bibliography. Then there were the Christian Reconstructionist authors. So, I figured that his ignorance was based on his not being a Christian. My mistake. He was merely ignorant.
Or was he?
3. Not citing or referencing other books does not mean he has not read them or is ignorant of them, it means he does not deem them pertinent to what he is writing.
I see. He is not ignorant after all. He was merely keeping his readers from becoming aware of a body of material which does, in fact, refute socialism from a biblical standpoint. That would make his initial statement about their being no biblical refutations of socialism look like self-conscious deception rather than utter ignorance. I do not see how this gets him off the hook. It makes him look worse.
4. John is writing in the context of the paucity of material on the subject on this side of the Atlantic and for a general market, not an academic market. His book is important in the UK where the default evangelical christian position is left-wing/socialist.
I see. My books are for an "academic market." As for 1,200+ articles on LewRockwell.com, that's for all those pointy-headed intellectuals, no doubt. As for the 100,000 subscribers to my Tea Party Economist, they are all a bunch of Ph.D.-types.
He ignored David Chilton's Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators, which went through four editions and five printings, and which targeted Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which sold 400,000 copies. But this was not written for the general reader, Petley's publisher wants you to believe.
5. You blame him for not referencing scripture enough, but he was not writing an exposition of the Bible, he was as you noted writing a history of UK and European political thought which is well-referenced; you might as well condemn him for not referencing Enid Blyton.
I see. Petley tells us that there is no biblical refutation of socialism, and then he does not supply one. He supplies a refutation based on Hayek and Friedman.
He says we are in need of a Christian worldview, and then he refuses to quote the Bible to provide it.
That was why I wrote my review: to show that this is one more book by one more man who claims he is supplying what he says is crucial -- a Christian worldview -- and then refuses to supply it.
Then his publisher defends him by saying that this was not the author's intent at all. It wasn't? The author writes on page 10 regarding his years in Brussels, "I had hitherto failed to think consistently as a Christian and apply any sort of Biblical thinking to the political arena." He goes on: "So began a spiritual discovery trying to determine what constitutes a Christian worldview." He even claims the following for his book: "It may appear that a book that attempts to put socialism under the spotlight of scripture is a strange topic in the early 21st century."
So, I imagined that this is what the book would do. It doesn't. On the other hand, it was what I did in 1968 in Marx's Religion of Revolution.
The publisher concludes:
I would appreciate it if you would inform your readers that some of the things you said were not completely accurate. Your opinion of course is entirely up to you.
His wish was my command.
Mr. Petley needs help. His publisher has not provided any. His publisher argues that he is not ignorant, which implies that Petley is a deceiver who is self-consciously covering up a comprehensive body of material that does, in fact, do what Petley says has never been done.
We are not amused.