Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Gribben on Christian Reconstruction


                                                                         Crawford Gribben

Crawford Gribben is an historian and something of an entrepreneur in his discipline. He is interested in religion of a kind that will be missed by many an historian because it is of no interest to themselves, and, perhaps,  they think it is of no interest to their readers. For example, they have little patience for people who are interested in the likely occurrence of the Rapture amongst believers,  because they could not conceivably be interested in the Rapture themselves. There is something of a partiality, a bias, at work in this,  when it comes to writing histories of history.  Their history would not have any slots about the people who had beliefs in the Rapture, and how the believers in it articulate it. The historian’s fishing net does not catch the Rapture, and so it is expunged from the record. Academic history is of course a humanism, but that manifests and is shaped by the current interests of historians. The history of belief in the Rapture does not settle down in the historical record as anything that anyone was interested in, not even to the reaction of bewilderment, or what it was like in 2021 to be a believer in the Rapture. 

 Not the Rapture, then, but it is a fact that interest in politics is had by more people than the Rapture. Professor Gribben in this latest book, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford University Press, 2021),  The idea that people with no interest in the Rapture nonetheless involve themselves in politics, so why not research a book on the politics of the Rapture had by those who believe in it, and the culture they produce, books and journals in particular, that are being written by its followers.That is a good idea

 It is not only the Rapture,  but several other convictions The result is – I think – that Crawford has an author’s ingenuity and works hard. For the book does not feature the Rapture alone - that was my way of this review getting going. But better, on the cultural setting of those who have among the people for whom the Rapture is an active belief. But it is an exercise in ‘Reconstruction’, another novel word, that is, a serious exercise in attempting a new cultural setting  for the faith of men and women to grow. That is nearer what historians may be interested in, for it denotes the re-siting of human groups in order to arrange a novel culture. The importance of reconstruction us given in the title of the first chapter, ‘Migration’.

 Migration is a feature of Protestantism, when medieval Christian groups transferred to new urban centres, such as Geneva, and other Swiss cities, Strasburg, and Zurich, then London, Edinburgh, Utrecht. and so on. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews celebrates the migration of the Israelites (ch.11) and made it characteristic of Christians in chapter 12. In this  short review the reader is introduced to the last twenty years of activity in which Christian people have striven  to survive, and to resist the prevailing culture, through the era of President Trump. Other current ventures in the writing of thinkers, for example, Rod Dreher, in his The Benedict Option, and the activity of the Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson, ‘one of the most erudite and controversial  of the evangelical of the theorists of American cultural decline,  and one of  the most and one of the most important of religious migration, and of other familial, ecclesiastical and cultural strategies for survival , resistance and reconstruction’. (11) Those who came and to join his congregation in Moscow, Idaho,  the crucial part of the ‘’Redoubt’, an enclave in the North-West of the United States  including Idaho and the adjoining states of Montana , Wyoming, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, in which a new community of religious conservatism could derive and resist an impending crisis in American culture’s “Impending crisis’ which has to do with abortion and the growth of the size and reach of the federal government, including state education. Education is important, and there are Christian schools and also a the writing of Rousas Rushdoony also  among the Reformed constituency, and his son-in-law Gary North. Rushdoony’s books, such as Intellectual Schizophrenia (1961) The messianic character of American education (1963),  The politics of guilt and pity (1970) and the Journal of Christian Reconstruction edited by Gary North, were one of the means that ideals and proposals  that were a part of the mix during this period, and through the influence of who many families migrated in numbers, and bought land and houses and businesses in the area. The change had an important strand of eschatology, though this has seemed to have weakened over the years.  Other literary influences were the novels of J.W.Rawles, which have had a broad reach, novels such as….. and Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), which sold 28 million copies. And  Douglas Wilson has been  the editor of periodical Credenda Agenda  since 1995.

 The above details have been taken  from chapter one. There are other chapters titled ’Eschatology’, `Government,’  ‘Education’,  and ‘Media’, and copious bibliographies covering Crawford Gribben’ s researches. They give an idea of the many-sided of this new Christian culture. It must be stressed that this is an academic book, writing about what is the case, rather than what the author ought to be rather is. It is a work in the history.  The prose is clear but condensed and detailed. In the book there are several references to the Reformed character of this development, but it struck me that originally the Reformed did not occupy emptiness at first but to the cities of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Geneva, Zurich, Strasbourg, Utrecht, London, Edinburgh. In contrast, the author seems to think that their model might have in common with the Mormons, who predominate in Southern Idaho, who have grown from  the 26 settlers of 1855 to 456,495 currently residing (19). (Gribben is strong on figures, and on noting the sources of his every claim he makes, reminding us all the while that this book is the work of a professional historian.) Such settling in Idaho was helped by the work of James Wesley Rawles, his novels and other writings. These writings joined those of Rod Dreher, of how to live as Christians in an increasingly anti-christian culture.

 Gribben  has put all this together this by hard work: visiting Idaho, conducting interviews, reading house magazines, indulging some philosophy, the details of eschatology, (on which has written previously) apologetics, and institutional growth in the Christian faith in Moscow, Idaho and its trends in education, particularly home education,  In putting these together he has moulded a body of data which is foundational in the history of this    culture. The upshot is greater than its parts. Like archaeological find. serious and intrigued, where other historians are typically disparaging. There is not only a Christian church, but also in the formation of schools,  and a college, St Andrews.

 This review does not do justice to the sweep and the detail into a book of modest proportions. I have said nothing of eschatology about which Gribben has dealt in other books, nor about homeschooling which is how Christians in the UK would come closest to the busyness of this venture in Idaho and its motivations.  Perhaps there should be other  blogs on it.