For Those Who Did Not Get the Phone Call
Robert Short wrote one of the first theology books I owned: The Gospel According to Peanuts. In the Peanuts strip, Charles Schulz introduced readers to many ethical, philosophical, and theological conundrums.
The kids might be assembled on the pitcher’s mound debating theology. Charlie Brown and Linus often leaned on the “wall of life” as they probed the deepest questions they could muster. And then there was Snoopy. In one strip, Snoopy was on the phone, laughing hysterically. When Snoopy hangs up and walks away, still laughing, Charlie Brown says something like, “I’ll never know what that was about!” Short wrote the phone call was an example of how revelation works: received by some particular person/people/canine, but not available to everyone.
I thought about that strip in reflecting on the many, and unusual, theological interpretations I’ve read regarding the November election. For public evangelical/charismatic/prosperity gospel Christian leaders who voted for the candidate who did not win, the nation is still in the midst of war being waged simultaneously in the spiritual and material realms.
God has his (I use the pronoun intentionally) candidate, his prayer warriors, his angels, his loyal human servants. They have all been fighting mightily for, they claim, a fair election, religious liberty, and against the forces of darkness as represented by the other candidate (or those whom the other candidate will unleash on the American public). They believe they are standing with God against secularism, atheism, communism, and totalitarianism as evidenced by “attacks” on campus free speech, pandemic mask-wearing, freedom to worship without COVID protocols, and compulsory microaggression awareness training programs.
On this side of the battle, truth is revealed, plainly written in the Christian Bible. God spoke. The writers wrote, without inserting themselves in the middle. The Bible is the source of all truth, for all fields of study. The keys to rightly understanding everything from the age of the earth to godly manhood and womanhood are in the pages of scripture.
Ignatius of Loyola wrote in his rule: “What seems to me white, I will believe black if the hierarchical Church so defines.” Substitute the word “Bible” for “hierarchical Church” in that quote, and you have the position of and a consequence for Revealed-Truthers. If the Bible says, say, “The sun stood still,” then you can’t claim the earth revolves around the sun. Your eye—your experience—has deceived you.
The Bible trumps experience. Experience can include loads of data, scientific study, and the scientific method per se: hypothesize, develop an experiment, run the experiment in a way that can be public/replicated, assess the results, return to/revise/affirm the hypothesis. Whenever a byte or a datum or scientifically-derived results conflict with revealed truth, observation and “the facts” must yield.
We who are not Biblicists and who labor to interpret the Bible using an array of modern and postmodern critical tools would be mistaken to label the Revealed-Truthers as stupid, naïve, or uneducated. Entire accredited universities and graduate seminaries are built to be in the service of such interpretation. You might reject the truth of their premises (as I do), but there is a great deal of complex, developed, consequential thinking that can be built on them.
Thus, if you believe the Bible is revealed truth, and if you frame this age as a stream of evangelicalism has for centuries—that history is the field of cosmic battle between God, his Christ, and the angels on one side, and the fallen principalities and powers led by Satan and his minions on the other side—then one might see how the election of the world’s most powerful leader at a time of worldwide upheaval must be interpreted cosmically. I might protest, “But they are embracing Manicheism, not Christianity! And God does not arrange every election in every place, for that would subvert the gift and responsibility of human freedom.” But we’d be whispering into a hurricane, for this logic is not their logic.
If God worked out the winner of the election before time began, as these ultra-Calvinists believe, then God’s will cannot be thwarted, regardless of what the vote count says. In fact, either the vote count must be fraudulent, or Satan has used the other side to delay the enactment of God’s will. Temporarily.
In this way of thinking, God is the kingmaker. Democracy is overrated; the popular vote might be the result of the devil’s wiles. Whatever it takes to install God’s Chosen into office is necessary for God’s will to come on earth as it is in heaven.
Remember: revealed truth is not available to all of us, just those who got the phone call. Those who got the phone call ask everyone else to—or demand that we—believe them as God’s prophets. I would say, “White is white and black is black. I trust my eyes, not your authority.”
In philosophical terms, we in the nation are dealing with a cosmic clash of epistemologies: how we arrive at what we claim as truth. So-called revealed truth vs. publicly available facts and evidence. In a democracy, revealed truth should be subjected to publicly-available evidence. In a nation ruled by revealed truth, democracy will be held in check by those who received the phone call.
Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is president emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary and is the executive director of the seminary’s Center for Religion in Public Life. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. Learn more about the Center’s work here and about Gary here.