A Black Theologian Identifies Me as a Member of an "Ideological Tribe"

Reality Check

These days, I don’t write an entire article defending myself against an attack on my position, unless the person making the attack is important, or else the person making the attack represents a position that I regard as important. I used to. I sometimes would write a book in response. Not any more. I have grown mellow.

But when a black theologian goes into print saying that I am part of something he calls “ideological tribalism,” I just can’t resist. His name is Anthony Bradley.

I am 72 years old. Much of my mental imagery is the product of the years I spent in movie theaters in my youth. The movies did not shape my ideology, but they surely shaped my imagery. So, when I learned that I am part of an ideological tribe, the image that instantly popped into my head was from King Kong. Carl Denham has taken his camera crew to Skull Island, and they are secretly photographing the tribe’s dancers, who are dancing in a circle, in preparation to offer a human sacrifice to Kong. “Uga, uga, uga — Kong!” Human Action: The Scho... Ludwig von Mises Best Price: $7.00 Buy New $14.00 (as of 10:35 EDT - Details)

[Note: I did not see it in 1933. I’m old, but I’m not that old. I saw it in a re-release in 1954.]

I can visualize myself in a straw kilt. “Uga, uga, uga — Mises!” My vote for the appropriate sacrifice would be Paul Krugman. But I digress.

The theologian got his Ph.D. from Westminster Seminary. I also attended Westminster Seminary. He speaks the same dialect that I speak: Reformed Protestant, with a Dutch accent. We both learned this arcane language at seminary. He says things like “sphere sovereignty.” Not many people speak this dialect, let alone with the accent.

His article was published in World Magazine, a magazine in the Reformed tradition.

[Note: the magazine exists because of me. It was started with the profits generated by the Christian school newspaper, God’s World News, formerly called It’s God’s World. That venture was the result of an article by David Chilton in the newsletter my Institute for Christian Economics published in the 1980’s, The Biblical Educator. Chilton in 1981 recommended starting a Christian version of the newspaper for public school elementary school kids, My Weekly Reader. The people who started World did what Chilton recommended. The 1982 issue summarizing the background of all this is here. I am not sure what World had in mind when publishing this article, but this much is clear: had I not been doing my homework in Christian economics, and raising the funds to publish The Biblical EducatorWorld would not exist.]

His article is prefaced by a glowing promotion by Marvin Olasky.

[Note: Dr. Olasky is the editor-in-chief of World in part because of me. He also hired Dr. Bradley to serve as a professor at King’s College, where Dr. Olasky was once the provost. Dr. Olasky had a position in academia, also in part because of me. In 1980, he came to Tyler, Texas, to ask my advice. Should he take a position at the University of Texas, Austin, to teach journalism, or should he accept a job by a huge grant-issuing organization, which today is known as a neocon outfit, to hand out grants? I recommended the teaching position, where he could influence students. He took my advice.]

With this as background, consider the article, which is the magazine’s lead story: “Anthony Bradley vs. evangelical tribalism.”


He begins with an encounter he had with a student at Duke Divinity School. The student was a Progressive in every sense: politically and theologically liberal to the core. He dismissed Dr. Bradley as follows: “His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology.” So far, Dr. Bradley sounds like my kind of guy.

It turns out that Dr. Bradley has been on the staff of the Acton Institute for 12 years. This organization is liberal in the sense that Lord Acton was liberal: a defender of liberty. It is committed to defending the free market, but from a natural law perspective. Traditional Catholic philosophy, following Aquinas, defends the natural law tradition.

I do not accept this tradition. I was taught philosophy by Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Seminary over half a century ago. He opposed the use of natural law in defending Christianity or anything else. He taught that natural law theory is a compromise with Greek humanism. In the history of Christian philosophy (apologetics — the defense of the faith), he really was a radical. He broke with 1800 years of common-ground philosophical defenses of Christianity. He persuaded me. Actually, his book, The Defense of the Faith, persuaded me, so I went to Westminster to study under him.

Westminster’s faculty has been divided ever since Van Til’s death in 1987. In fact, it was divided at least two decades earlier. There are still a few followers of Van Til on the faculty, and there are some natural law defenders. I wrote a book on this in 1991: Westminster’s Confession: The Abandonment of the Van Til Tradition. It was a response to the Seminary’s book-long attack on me and my associates. You can download it here. I published two other volumes in response in 1991, just to make sure people got the point. The seminary’s book is long out of print. The faculty never responded. This is the usual academic response to my responses.

Dr. Bradley has written a lot of articles for Acton. He is a kind of natural law version of Walter Williams. This is not a bad thing to be.

The problem is this: he dismisses my writings because I keep quoting the Bible, and because I never cite natural law theory to defend free market economics. He seems to think this is evidence of my ignorance regarding Western social theory. I have been studying Western social theory since 1960. I understand it. I just don’t accept its humanistic underpinnings.

He writes:

For most evangelicals, principles in the Christian social thought tradition–like natural law, solidarity, subsidiarity, sphere sovereignty, personalism, and so on–do not provide the raw material for helpful discourse, because the only thing that matters is whether or not one’s tribal understanding is supported, defended, and promoted. Evangelicals are left with an ethical framework derived from individualist biblicism. Most do not even use a confession of faith as a starting point. This is classic Christian postmodern tribalism, because the goal is to prove that God is on your tribe’s side and not theirs.

Does he include me in that classification? Yes.

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