A Critique to James Dobson’s Newsletter (Feb 2021)

“These are momentous and dangerous days for our country and its people.”  That’s the opening line of James Dobson’s February newsletter.  The founder of Focus on the Family understandably sounded somber.  Not only has he been a staunch Trump supporter for his politics, Dobson also defended the Christian faith of the former President, calling him a “baby Christian.” To him, Trump’s losing the Presidential Election bears more than just political implications.  It dawns the downfall of a great nation, and it marks a major setback for the kingdom of God.  In many ways, this newsletter reflects the view of many Christian Trump supporters.  He writes:  “The Left has now achieved ultimate power in the White House, in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate. Consequently…..there will be no checks and balances within our system of government.” The lament is followed by a list of “radical changes” he envisions will come in the Biden administration.  Ultimately, he fears for the next generation.  “Writing now to parents and grandparents in 2021, never in history has it been more important for you to defend your kids and your rights to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Fight for it with your very lives. If you are too intimidated or distracted to give priority to your children, the popular culture will take them to hell.”

The fact that this author disagree with many domestic and foreign policy outlook listed by Dr. Dobson is beyond the point.  What truly disturbing is his gross misunderstanding of the American founding principles and a sloppy theology that contribute to Christian Nationalism.  To begin with, our founding fathers envisioned the checks and balances of our system to be sustained by the three separate branches of the government – Executive, Legislative, and Judicial – and not by political parties.  The power belongs to the people.  Our Constitution understands the possibility of and allows for one party to dominate both the Executive and the Legislative branch.  It also demands the government officials to rise above party lines to put the country ahead.  And, the founding fathers also trusted that if the elected officials failed to do what they are elected to do, they will be fired by the people.  That is exactly what happened in the 2020 Election.  

Regardless of what one might think of the current parties, a multiple-party system remains essential for liberal democracy.  Having two parties competing for better ideas for the country’s advancement produces a much healthier environment than domination by one, no matter how good that one party may appear.  While elections reflect the people’s decisions on the subject matter, a spirit of civility must form the construct of the process in between!  The current polarization across the nation bears witness to the disappearance of such civility.  Competing ideas become threats.  Different ideologies are offenses.  In that world, fellow Americans who hold different views become the enemy.  They must be destroyed.  In essence, Dobson’s view is utterly anti-democratic.  

He portrays fellow Americans as enemies.  The word “battle” (or “battles”) appears six times in the newsletter.  “Defend your kids.” “Fight with your very lives.” As much as Dobson might have written this out of genuine fear, this author finds him irresponsible as a public figure to further fuel the flames rather than bringing a sensible perspective to Christ followers.  His words reflect that liberal democracy works only if those on the right prevail.  This is like someone saying:

“I believe in freedom of speech if my speech dominates.”

“I believe in freedom of religion if my religion is in the majority.”

Or, ultimately,

“I believe in liberal democracy if I am in power.”

What transpires this kind of Christian nationalistic mindset is a flawed theology.

Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner explain in their book City of Man that many viewed America as the “new Israel (Kindle location 552).” In this sense, Americans become the new “chosen people.” Like Israel in the Old Testament, God rewards America when Americans largely abide to God’s law and His punishment will come when the country wanders astray.  This kind of direct application of a unique covenant God made with a specific nation to such degree of generalization violates any serious theological work in Christian history.  It forges a simplistic view of life, of sufferings, of the role of Christians, and of God.  In the end, this view seeks kingdom glory in a temporal and earthly manner, much like how the ancient people believed in their time.  In the OT time, when two nations were at war, they believed that their gods were also at war.  This is why a certain camp of Judah believed that Jerusalem was safe when under siege by the Babylonians because the Temple was located within the city (Jeremiah 7:4).  After all, the LORD will not allow his own house be taken by the gentiles.  This is also why the exilic in Babylon were devastated.  If Jerusalem fell, does it mean Yahweh lost?  The Book of Kings is written to answer that question.  Yahweh is fine.  Jerusalem fell because you sinned, and God’s work is not done.  

Most evangelicals believe the office of the prophet has ceased, because the Bible now stands as the final authority of revelation.  The Old and New Testament testify that the well being of God’s kingdom rests in eschatology – the doctrine of end times – and not on temporal visions of man.  The Book of Revelation speaks of the final victory of Christ.  The Messiah’s victory is sealed!  Between the inauguration of Christ (his First Coming) and his Second Coming, he proclaimed that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Matt 28:18).  God has never lost control!  Where does Dobson’s fear come from?  It comes from a flawed theology that believes the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” comes from the re-establishment of a Christendom like that after Constantine and the way to achieve that is through political power struggle.  Godly  legislators will then enact the law of God.  Righteousness and justice will then roll on like a river or a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24).  That would be the Christian version of the sharia law!  The Church stopped waiting for another King David since Christ.  

The question that any believer might have with regard to his or her role on earth liken that to a jigsaw puzzle.  Every person must first realizes what the big picture is before knowing the purpose of each individual piece.  An ancient Atonement Theory called the ransom theory explains the mindset of early Christians who underwent extreme oppressions including the lion’s den.  The ransom theory attempts to answer the question “Why Jesus died?” Or, more specifically, “In what way did the death of Christ save mankind?” To understand the major thrust of this theory, one must pay attention to the historical backdrop.  It was good against evil.  Christians were persecuted – much like what Dobson sees at the moment.  A Church father Origen saw biblical history as the depiction of a great cosmic drama (Christian Theology, p.810).  In this drama, Satan established control of humanity and assumed governing power in the world (Eph 2:2).  While God could easily overpower Satan, He has chosen not to stoop to its level.  Instead, He paid a ransom, the blood of Christ, to the devil to redeem humankind.  And, of course, when Christ was risen on the third day, Satan suffered a complete loss in this cosmic struggle.  The point is this.  God never intended to bring down twelve legions of angels (Matt 26:53).  He chose to go on the cross.  His followers must ask themselves where they stand in the crossroad.  So many advocate battle, but the spiritual warfare described in the Bible often points to one’s internal struggles.  This author fears that the voice of battle only reflects a state of callousness to God’s heart.  

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