The Long View: Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon

A brief note by John on Thomas Friedman's imperial policy ambitions, and Antipas Ministries, which still has a website sixteen years later.

Theonomy, Globalism, and Babylon

This note was originally posted to the Talk 2000 Forum, and appeared in the April 1999 issue of Let's Talk 2000.


Those of you who get the Sunday New York Times may have noted the somewhat startling cover art on the magazine of March 28, a picture of a clenched fist with an American flag painted on it . The story it illustrates may mark a significant turning point in liberal thinking about foreign policy issues, and maybe in American politics generally. Its argument might even rate as "millennial" in its own right. I mention it here, though, because of the way it dovetails with some premillennial web material I have come across that treats of questions of world order.

The piece in question was written by Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman. The title is "What the World Needs Now: For globalism to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is." Friedman makes much the same argument about America's political elites and globalization that I (and others) have made about politically active millenarian Christians and Jews: they really don't have a clue in terms of a general theory of statecraft. The elites, say Friedman, have a variety of ideas about domestic economics, trade issues and military posture, but no one has succeeded in constructing a model for how these things can work together. This is the case despite the fact that America benefits most from globalization, and is simultaneously the prime target for "blowback" from the process. (Readers may be reminded of Salman Rushdie's recent remark that "international" is becoming a euphemism for "American.")

Friedman suggests a synthesis uniting a hegemonic strategic policy with a generous welfare state and a regime of largely unfettered free trade. Nice work, if you can get it. Though he does not mention it, his prescription is much like the mix of the late New Deal. In fact, Friedman's argument is original mostly in that it issues from the liberal part of the spectrum. Culturally conservative internationalists, notably those at the Weekly Standard, have been groping toward some such synthesis since the Bush Administration. (Even I took a poke at it: see the section of Spengler's Future dealing with 1992 -- 2022 at http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/sfol/sf10.html) The belief in a need for a Grand Hegemonic Doctrine could easily become a consensus, as containment theory did after the Second World War.

Meanwhile, unremarked by the Times editorial page, there are some new shoots in the garden of eschatology. I have come across a sophisticated website [http://www.endtimesnetwork.com] maintained by the Antipas Ministries and the Institute for the Study of Religion in Politics. The site includes a readable online book, "The Antipas Papers," by one Steven Ray Shearer, which explains the doctrine of these people. The material is significant because (1) it makes much the same assessment of geopolitics as does Thomas Friedman and (2) it also makes some shifts of emphasis in the familiar premillennial endtime scenario to accommodate the assessment.

The Antipas Ministries is vigorously evangelical, but their eschatology is a minority position. That is, while they are premillennial, they also hold that the church will have to go through the Tribulation. Also, though based in California and apparently staffed in part by former US Army intelligence officers, they place the locus of evil in the final days in the US rather than in the European Union.

Since the premillennial revival began in the US in the 1830s, it has always been something of an anomaly that its projections for world history required an increasingly muted role for America as the endtimes approached. For 150 years, the general expectation has been that Israel would be reestablished and that Europe would be united by the Antichrist, who would make a false peace with Israel. In this scenario, the Roman Church or Europe as a whole is the Scarlet Woman, destined for destruction, while the US is either a bystander or one Antichrist's deluded allies. According to Antipas Ministries, in contrast, America is Babylon, which in the future will be ruled by an Antichrist of wholly Gentile origins. The identification of the US with Babylon is made partly through a conventional critique of economic globalization. "The Antipas Papers" is the first premillennial document I have encountered that quotes extensively from William Greider and Alexander Cockburn.

A remarkable feature of this material is its root and branch rejection of every link between the church and politics. There are predictably harsh remarks about such Theonomy (or Dominion Theology) advocates as Gary North and Rousas Rushdoony, who hope to establish a theocracy in the United States. However, the condemnation also extends to the Christian Coalition and such mainstream figures as Ralph Reed, as well to attempts to coordinate the public policy agendas of Catholics and evangelicals. Real evangelicals, according to Antipas Ministries, don't have public policy agendas. This world is wholly under the dominion of Satan. It is not just futile to attempt to save it, but actually dangerous.

Indeed, the Theonomists and the Christian Coalition are part of the forces of Antichrist in this endtime scenario. The program to create a culturally conservative theocracy will succeed, but its leader will be Antichrist. Antipas even goes so far as to quote Hitler's calls for a return to traditional morality. The argument is not that traditional morality is fascist, of course, but to warn that a politicized moral platform can be trap for an antichristian agenda.

There is a great deal of material on this site, and I have not been over all of it. However, it does not seem to have any nasty features. Though Antipas Ministries anticipates that real evangelicals will be thrown out of their churches during the Tribulation, I saw no survivalist language. The site suggests that believers prepare for the persecution by forming house churches now, and otherwise keeping a low profile.

It is hard to see how there can be much of a future for a style of eschatology that makes ecclesiastical anarchy a virtue, but then evangelicalism has always managed to live with this feature. It is also hard to imagine anyone but the Antichrist himself being much annoyed by the sort of mild, pietist "inner migration" that Antipas Ministries seems to represent. Should the hopes of people like Thomas Friedman be realized, this species of premillennialism could grow in counterpoint to the successes of the Grand Hegemonic Doctrine.

 

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly


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