Let me begin this thing with a little story that is somewhat off topic, but it does illustrate the point that I will be making more broadly. One time I had occasion to debate the head of the American Humanist Association. We were debating at Liberty University, and so it was on Christian turf, which helped set the situation up. We were debating whether or not Scripture should serve as the foundation for our laws, and he of course was maintaining the negative. One of the points he made in the course of our debate was that the Bible could not be relied on as a foundation for our laws because the Bible prohibited the eating of shell fish. I replied that it was quite true that, according to our worldview, at one point in our history, God’s people were prohibited from eating shell fish. In contrast to this, I said, your worldview holds that all of us used to be shell fish.
This naturally got a laugh, but it was his reaction to that laugh which provides me with my illustration. He was entirely discomfited by it. He was already an unbeliever in a room full of Christians, which would have been bad enough, but which he came to the event expecting. The thing that was unanticipated was that he, an educated and sophisticated member of America’s urbane and elite set, got laughed at on a university campus over Darwin.
There was an epistemic respectability reversal going on, and that is the kind of thing I am seeing take shape elsewhere.
Elsewhere Where? You Might Ask
These days all roads lead to Big Eva, right? Well, all roads used to lead to Big Eva, but they don’t anymore, and that’s the point.
Last week we released another “Doug Reacts” video, in which I reacted at various points to a bit that Tucker Carlson had released. In this clip, Tucker was making a lot of good sense, and so early on in the video I made a comment that said that while our Reformed thought leaders were dithering about with this and that, Tucker Carlson had picked up the mantle of Francis Schaeffer. This clip of ours got around, as it should have, and the resultant indignation was like unto that found in a room full of wet cats.
Carl Trueman is, I believe, the one who coined the phrase Big Eva, for which we render all appropriate thanks. He is also the one who told us, correctly, that all their attempts to hang with the cool kids would necessarily come to nothing. Anyone who remained faithful to biblical orthodoxy and resisted in any way the ongoing demands of the sexual revolution was going to be regarded—you can count on it—as the equivalent of a white supremacist. But while Trueman sees certain essential things correctly, like that one, he mysteriously misses others—and that is a topic for another time. It is Christ or chaos, which is another way of saying that there is transformation . . . or there isn’t.
And here is where my earlier illustration comes into play. The voices of Big Eva, those emanating from the approved roster of conference speakers, the denizens of evangelical best seller lists, used to represent the voice of respectability and responsibility. They were the people using their grown-up voices. When they spoke, people used to listen. But they don’t anymore. Things have changed.
They were the curators of the evangelical museum, and they were the ones who were responsible for placing the velvet ropes in front of all the displays. One of those displays was the Francis Schaeffer exhibit, and so when I said that Tucker Carlson had picked up the mantle of Schaeffer, I had done a really uncouth thing. I was changing a light bulb in the kitchen and somehow managed to step on their soufflé. The cook desired to speak with me.
There are two aspects of this. One is that Schaeffer, now that he is safely dead, can be remembered as the one who used to give us tours through European art museums, and no longer as the writer of The Christian Manifesto. As soon as any evangelical with any kind of legacy dies, the curators move in, remove the objectionable bits to a nearby warehouse, and get the rest of it behind glass. The tours begin at 2 pm.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous”
Matthew 23:29 (KJV)
And so then, when some unlikely sort—Tucker Carlson, say—pops up later and starts reprising an earlier Schaefferian theme from yesteryear, the indignation reaction sets in. “Tucker can’t say that.” “Why not?” “Well, for starters, he’s not dead yet. And secondly, we clearly need to have the locks on the warehouse changed.”
The Point, And I Do Have One . . .
The winds have shifted. There has been a sea change. The shine has gone completely off the old standards of respectability. It turns out that in times of crisis people prefer it when you simply tell them the truth, instead of recycling ecclesiastical bromides and soft evangelical platitudes.
The old voices of Big Eva do not realize that over the last two years they have done to their credibility what the CDC did to theirs, and for largely the same reasons. They simply repeated the establishment line, demonstrating that they were in thrall to the politics of the hour, urging us all to go along and get along. They wanted us to conform ourselves way into the nether reaches of Romans 13. They were not reading the signs of the times. Nor did they read Romans 13.
The basic sentiment is an ancient one, but Longfellow included it in one of his poems in a form we all should recognize. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.
When the people you have respected and honored your entire life start spouting manifest absurdities, what do you do? One of the things you do is you pull up stakes and you move. Americans—in the millions—are relocating. And one of the key factors behind these moves is the collapse of trust in leaders who were formerly trusted. For many this is political and economic—their blue state governor finally went around the final and ultimate bend and proposed taxing the moonlight that fell in your yard. For the evangelicals among them, that collapsed trust includes the voices of Big Eva, who would rather say something false than offensive. Moreover when it became obvious that they would actually make that kind of damaging choice, the regular folks didn’t like it very much.
And what this has meant is that when I write or say something that they consider particularly spicy, like making a joke that Tucker Carlson was somehow channeling Francis Schaeffer, and as a consequence they, the respectable types, cluck their tongues at me, it really doesn’t register anymore. Nobody cares.
Everybody can now see what is going on, and the old respectable voices have been radically discounted. If these voices were paperback books, they would have all been remaindered, and on sale for $2.50 at a bookstore in some outlet mall. People aren’t flinching on command anymore. The old disreputable is the new respectable, and vice versa. Cranky is the new respectable.
When Russell Moore left the SBC and the ERLC, he teamed up with Christianity Today, which was a shock to precisely no one. But he is now within that ecosystem, where there are still many fine orthodox Christians. There are also many there who are not fine orthodox Christians, and who are in the process of giving away the whole dang store, which brings in the law of associations. The fine orthodox Christians who are there have less of a problem being associated with the heterodox ones than they would have being associated with the mean and surly conservative ones, like me. Only I am not mean and surly. In person I am a regular baa-lamb. A conservative baa-lamb, but a baa-lamb nonetheless. But I veered off.
When I say that ecosystem, I am referring to the publishing world that includes CT, and Eerdmans, and various published offerings by the kind of people who could get hired at Calvin College. Hey, did I mention that Eerdmans has joined the woke pride month thing for June?
Who could have seen that coming? Besides Tucker and Francis, I mean.