The Synagogue Shooter’s Reformed Theology – A Recipe for Disaster?

The Synagogue Shooter’s Reformed Theology – A Recipe for Disaster? May 3, 2019

No shortage of talking points has been spurred by Julie Zauzmer in her Washington Post article on the recent synagogue shooting in Poway, California. Several internet commentators have taken this incident to the front lines of the racial reconciliation debate amongst Evangelicals, claiming Earnest’s manifesto is the natural result of his Reformed roots. The reason being (according to some): Reformed Christians have not done enough to condemn the evils of white supremacy in the church and broader American culture. The system itself can also breed contempt of the Jewish people because it fails to properly nuance the historical, Jewish people as those who are guilty of crucifying Christ rather than all Jews, and it teaches that the Jewish people no longer bear a special place in God’s economy.

First, we ought to address the fact that this incident has provided many with a measure of grand-standing in order to peddle one’s pet hobby-horse in the midst of tragedy. This is common in our day simply because the internet has given rise to the likes of people like me, who naturally comment on various issues in our times. Yet there is a time for decorum. That isn’t to say such issues are unrelated to the talking points, but simply to say there is a simple wisdom to be had in slowing down, closing our mouths for a brief moment, and thinking through these issues a bit more than we are prone to do in the age of likes, hearts, and shares. The temptation of many, regardless of their socio-political persuasion, is to rush into publishing something simply because news these days dies fast. In but a few short weeks, only a handful will recall hearing the news of John Earnest walking into a synagogue, and opening fire on innocents. Fewer will remember why, unless of course his actions can be used alongside the next tragedy to conveniently bolster one’s hobby-horse.

It must also be recognized that the Reformed camp is not monolithic in their understanding of racial reconciliation, systemic oppression, the solution to the evils of racism, and much of anything related to this issue. There is a strong divide taking place simply due to much of the language and world views borrowed from ideologies like intersectionality and the social phenomenon known as cultural Marxism. Yet this is no different than the broader Evangelical culture on issues of systemic racism and the like. The issues then here are not relegated strictly to the Reformed camp, yet it also must be plainly stated that disagreement with proponents of the “social justice” movement aren’t any closer to embracing white nationalism than those who do affirm the movement.

No person with a sound mind can affirm gospel truth and a doctrine like Kinism, and people on both sides of the “social justice” debate have had no issues denouncing these ideals. While the internet may bring fools to prominence, it seems the broader church has no issues embracing the reality that ethnic discrimination in all of its forms is an affront to God and our fellow man. Yet it is equally an affront to God for there to be factions among the brethren because of the prominence of the flesh (I use this term rather ironically, as it imbibes both a Pauline feel, as well as the colloquial understanding). One could, for example, draw upon the radicalized actions of social justicians as fuel for the fodder, yet both sides know it is disingenuous to criticize ideas merely on the merits of cause and effect from proponents thereof.

Now, one might have historic precedent to say such ideas have had a long track record of producing such actions (and in rather large quantities), but these types of arguments are typically only used for a certain rhetorical flair. As an extremely leaky Dispensationalist, I’ll be truthful: I don’t have much of a dog in this fight. I have a fundamental disagreement with my Reformed brothers in terms eschatology and ecclesiology – yet my convictions behoove me to represent these things honestly. Surely, there is warrant to say these theological positions have been used to support all sorts of evil – I think of Hitler’s justification for exterminating the Jewish people using Martin Luther’s own diatribes against the Jews. Yet Luther’s other writings have been used to inspire Christians of all stripes and certainly have no track record of being used to solicit extermination of entire people groups. Suffice it to say, an abuse of a theological system does not necessitate the roots of the well are poisoned. One must critique the constituent parts, not only to assess if they are true, but moral in and of themselves. It is no secret to the informed reader that several Reformed thinkers through the ages have swiftly condemned Luther’s own diatribes on the Jews and used it as an example of not finishing well.

Secondly, intrinsic to Reformed theology is the teaching that all of mankind is in utter rebellion to their Creator and this produces men capable of manifesting this rebellion in some incredibly perverse ways. A people who believe this earnestly don’t think that somehow their little families and churches in suburbia are incapable of having members in their midst holding to doctrines of demons. Understand that doesn’t mean one isn’t shocked by how this might make itself known and be brought to light. What it does indicate though is that an accurate picture of the depravity of mankind necessitates the embrace that any person can believe and act upon some incredibly vile things.

This is what indwelling sin produces. We must be quick to remember that those who do not truly love God curl up in the lap of the evil one like a child does with their own father. The child of the devil not only embraces the “warmth” and “comfort” of Satan, they love him as their “papa” and hate the Lord who reigns over all. While I am not a pastor, one of the things I have been learning over the past few years is just how prevalent sin truly is within local churches. People can sit under sound teaching for years and still produce some of the vilest beliefs contrary to what they’ve been taught for years. People can and do hide it quite well, turn on the charm when they need to, or perhaps even squeeze out some tears to feign godly sorrow.

As a friend intimated on Facebook, “…it is worth remembering that Judas Iscariot spent over 3 years with the Son of God, with the privilege of hearing His divine preaching, teaching, and counsel. And yet what do we see in the Passion? This isn’t a new phenomenon.” I would add that this pattern of violence among those who should know better has been evident all throughout the history of mankind. Cain killed Abel, Edom persecuted Israel, the prophets were routinely killed by an apostate Israel, and the surrounding pagan nations were even more rooted in their perversions than Israel. The trajectory then is one wherein we find in the midst of the people of God one child who genuinely reflects the ideals of their heavenly Father, and one who reflects the ideals of their father, Satan.

Just as was seen with Judas Iscariot, people can expertly maintain a façade amongst their closest friends; they can retain an appearance of godliness even though their hearts remain far from God. They can ask tough questions and handle deep-level theology with acumen and precision – yet never love the God of sound theology. We ought not to be so foolish as to think it can’t happen in churches intimating theological depth, yet we also ought not to be so foolish as to assume that someone who should know better does know better, or that such a theology harbors lingering, yet latent, Antisemitism. To suggest such a notion imbibes the same attitude of those who blamed Christian teaching on homosexuality for the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. I would suggest something that is perhaps a bit more close to home: a person who does not truly love his neighbor does not love God, and thereby, no amount of theological acumen shall spare him of the evil within and the wrath to come. In similar fashion, the broader culture ought not to be so foolish as to think that they are immune to embracing forms of barbarism if they do not love their Creator.

What this reveals then, rather than what some might suggest is the racial canary in the theologically Reformed coal mine, is that one reveling in hatred of any man is in essence, a ticking time bomb. Whether this hatred is expressed through a kiss of betrayal or the shooting of a synagogue, it is the manifestation of the heart’s desires in the physical realm. More clearly, it is the revelation of the crime the heart has already committed: murder. You don’t have to hold to the Reformed scheme in order to walk in this vileness – you simply have to reject the second Greatest Commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Arguably, in our age of outrage, this ought to cause us all to pause for a moment as we examine the most basic of all Christian doctrines: do we love even the one who considers us an enemy? If you don’t, you’d better not think for a moment you are incapable of stooping to the same level. Given the right circumstances, influences, lack of restraint, and a heart predisposed to sin, any society can skip right into genocide and barbarism. Autonomous individuals are no exception to this rule either; murder always finds its roots in the sin of Cain.

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