Denethor Ministries

Bojidar Marinov

Podcast: Axe to the Root

Christians pour billions of dollars into men and ministries who believe in defeat, and thus subsidize their own defeat. Like Denethor, we are all, as a church, invested in defeat, billions of dollars every year. We have accepted the inevitability of defeat…no, worse than that, we have have accepted that defeat is so normative that we should even subsidize it.

Book of the Week:
– Millennalism and Social Theory, Gary North


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Welcome to Episode 6 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will be talking about the cultural war in America today, and the responsibility of the churchian leaders and celebrities for the situation today. We will cover especially what I call Denethor ministries – a specific type of Christian ministries that have become very popular, entrenched in the church, and well-supplied with funds, when these same ministries not only did nothing to prevent the cultural defeats of Christianity in the last decades but also actively worked towards those defeats and encouraged them.

I will start with a quote from a recent interview on NPR, in relation to the current election campaign and the role of the evangelicals – or what passes for “evangelicals” – in it:

We have taken comfort in the fact that there have been millions and millions of us in America. Now we’re having to face the fact that, evidently, theologically-defined—defined by commitment to core evangelical values—there aren’t so many millions of us as we thought.

Now, it’s a fair statement. Yes, we as Christians have always thought that there were millions of us who have the same view of reality because we had the same theological definitions for everything. And since Christians are supposed to view the world through their Biblical understanding, we have supposed that there are many who think like we do, because these millions go to all these churches where they hear all these sermons based on the same theology – with some insignificant difference between the denominations. And yes, the rise of Donald Trump and his success among Evangelicals clearly show that we have been wrong about it. Most of these people don’t know what they believe in, and how what they hear from the pulpits bears on what is happening in the culture. So, yes, the sentiment seem to be correct, after all, at least judging from the developments of the last couple of years.

What’s problematic, though, is where the statement came from. Or, more precisely, who the statement came from. It came from Albert Mohler. Yes, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The man who, for more than 2 decades, has held the position of the highest theological authority in the largest Evangelical denomination in the United States – 16 million membership as of today. As such, he is the man who has been responsible for training the majority of that denomination’s pastors, preachers, seminary professors, etc. The man who has been allotted an annual budget of over $30 million to train a full-time equivalent of 2,000 students for the ministry, which means individual cost of about $15,000 per student per year. (To compare, Georgia Tech’s annual budget per student is about $35,000, but at least 1/3 of it goes to scientific, engineering, and technological research, so the cost per student is close to that of the Southern Baptist Seminary. And, of course, Georgia Tech has to maintain world-class scientific and engineering laboratories as part of the educational process.) This is the man who has every support of the largest Baptist denomination in the world to make his teaching and theological views available to every corner of the world, and train evangelists and preachers anywhere, at any time. This is Albert Mohler, after all, who, according to The Economist, is one of America’s most influential evangelicals.

Isn’t it quite strange, then, that the man who has at his disposal a greater abundance of resources to spread the Gospel and train ministers than all the Christian missionaries in the first 19 centuries of the Christian church, after two decades of work, would so casually declare the defeat of his own task and mission. He has been at the wheel all this time, commanding resources that could do miracles in other parts of the world, he could train and prepare ministers who could turn the world upside down, and yet, he states just matter-of-factly, we don’t have that many evangelicals in America today, at least not that many that would be theologically self-conscious enough to make a difference in our society.

The irony of the situation is stunning. If we translate the problem to the world of cars, and let’s say I complained that I can’t find a good car that is worth the price, and that the automobile industry has declined severely in the last 20 years, that would be alright. Imagine if the CEO of Toyota Corporation said it. Or in the world of technology: if the president of the MIT declared that we have seen a decline in technological development. You’d think it is the greatest joke ever, right? And how in the world is it possible that Albert Mohler can’t see the irony in his own words?

Apparently, he can’t. Because he has said it many times in his podcasts and his blog, and in other interviews. But there’s more. In some of his podcasts and blogs, when speaking about Christians engaged politically and running for political office, his concern is that many Christians are incompetent for office. His favorite dictum is “I’d rather be governed by a competent Turk (that is, Muslim) than by an incompetent Christian.” He ascribes the words to Luther although there is no evidence Luther ever said them; they were ascribed to Luther by later authors. Now, whatever one thinks of that dictum, the question remains: how is it that after centuries of competent Christian leadership in the Western world, we don’t have competent Christian leaders today, 23 years after Albert Mohler took over the leadership of the largest Christian seminary in the US. How is it that his leadership failed to produce the Christian ministers who would train the Christian leaders for every area of life? One Scottish immigrant back in the 1700s, John Witherspoon, was responsible for the training of a whole generation of American leaders who turned the world upside down – and Witherspoon didn’t have at his disposal anything close to what Mohler has, in terms of funds and technology. What happened to these $30+ million that Mohler’s seminary has been spending every year for the last 23 years?

However, don’t be left with the impression that I am simply picking on Albert Mohler. There is a general principle here. Mohler is just one of the more visible examples of a general phenomenon in the American church today, hundreds of similar ministries which I dub with the Middle Earth name “Denethor Ministries.” Mohler is one example of such ministries, but there are others. Similar statements about the decline of the cultural influence of evangelicalism were publicly shared by Franklin Graham; and his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association burns through $100 million of donations every year. John MacArthur has been burning through $70 million every year combined donations and tuition for his Grace Community Church, The Master’s College, and The Master’s Seminary; and yet, MacArthur has said it many times that if there was any cultural influence of Christianity in America, it is declining. This decline has been noted by professors at both Westminster Seminaries – in Philadelphia and in Escondido – and yet, both seminaries have been burning through $10 million a year combined, for many years now.

If we sum up all the money spent on these ministries – churches, seminaries, Christian colleges, evangelistic associations, missionary organizations – it will amount to billions of dollars every year. And yet, the very top leaders, those whom we have entrusted with the task of applying this money to good use, just casually tell us that all their efforts have failed, that Christianity is in decline, and there is nothing in their statement to indicate that they are aware of or willing to admit that they may be responsible for this gigantic waste of resources. It’s just business as usual, you know, give us more money to spread the Gospel, and, by the way, the Gospel is even less influential with the money you gave us last time.

No matter how you look at it, no matter what excuses you make up, it is obvious that Christians in America are supporting their own cultural defeat. There is no other way to describe the willingness to waste billions of dollars on organizations and ministers who just casually declare that after decades of work, America has become even less Christian, and Christians have become less theologically-conscious and less competent than ever. This is one very pricey cultural defeat, folks. We could have spent all these billions of dollars on bourbon and the results would have been about the same. In fact, I really harbor the suspicion that if we had spent that money on bourbon, we would have had better results. At least we would have seen the real nature of our misery and would have been motivated to do something, not just delegate it to men who specialize in wasting billions of dollars.

Why Denethor ministries? Who is Denethor anyway? Denethor, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, is the last Steward of Gondor, right before the return of the rightful King of Gondor, Aragorn. Now, if you just watched the movies and haven’t read the book, keep in mind that Denethor was there presented in a much worse light than in the book. In the book, he is a man of strong will, profound wisdom and intelligence, of foresight, of leadership skills, and of great personal strength, ethics, sense of honor, and commitment. Unlike Saruman, he is strong enough to oppose Sauron’s attempts at corrupting him. He raises his two sons, Boromir and Faramir, to be worthy of their calling – men of courage and strength, and leaders as their father. For a long time, the two brothers organize the defense of Gondor against her enemies, and are able to keep the enemy at bay. In all respects, Denethor, as described in the book, is an extraordinary man of extraordinary character.

And yet, all his strengths notwithstanding, Denethor is incapable of reversing the decline of Gondor, the realm under his Stewardship. The population of the Kingdom continues dwindling, even in times of relative peace and prosperity. At the same time Mordor is again filled with Orcs and is again expanding its power and its influence, making gains in both military strength and allies. Despite the wisdom and the leadership skills of Boromir and Faramir, the enemy continues rolling back the border defenses closer and closer to the capital at Minas Tirith. During the rule of Denethor, Ithilien, the easternmost territory of Gondor, across the Great River, is completely abandoned, and only Gondor’s Rangers go there. Osgiliath, the ancient capital of Gondor, on the Great River, is left uninhabited, only border ruins, harder and harder to retain, and eventually these ruins are taken over by the enemy. The plains to the north and northwest (the border with Rohan) are so depopulated that Orcs are left to roam freely. Gondor under Denethor is a shrinking kingdom, with its effective borders being pushed more and more back to the very walls of its capital city. When the final battle comes, and his sons are not with him anymore (Boromir is dead, and Faramir is mortally wounded), Denethor proves incapable of leading his men in the defense of the city because of what we can call a failure of nerve, and eventually commits suicide. The command of the forces of Gondor in the final battle falls to a stranger, Gandalf, and then to a ruler of lower rank, the Prince of Dol Amroth.

Why is that? Why is it that a man of such foresight, knowledge, wisdom, and moral strength, aided by the most extraordinary pair of sons a living man can boast of, is incapable of producing the progress and growth his realm needs in order to stand firm against its enemies?

The simplistic answer is that in his pride, Denethor failed to recognize the presence of the true King of Gondor, Aragorn. And there is some truth to it, and there is also a spiritual lesson for us all in it – and there is a spiritual lesson for all these modern ministries I mentioned above, that they all fail to recognize the present reality of Christ Kingdom.

But there is also a deeper reality behind Denethor’s failure; and this reality is rather ideological – or, rather, eschatological. In all his strength, knowledge, foresight, and wisdom, Denethor carries in himself deep pessimism about the future. His expectations are always grim and negative. He sees no hope for a long term victory. His statements show that the best he expects of the future is restraining action against evil, not a victorious campaign which would eradicate it. In his superior knowledge of the enemy and his strength, Denethor sees no weaknesses in the enemy, and sees nothing that could stop the enemy’s advance. When he sends his son Faramir to his certain death, it is only because he doesn’t see any other hope but heroic sacrifice which would delay the inevitable defeat. And when his son is returned to him mortally wounded from that last heroic effort, Denethor loses all hope and commits suicide.

Denethor expects the world to get worse and worse. While he doesn’t say this openly, and probably doesn’t even realize it, his eschatology takes his toll on his mind. None of his actions or words indicate any hope of victory, or any hope of improvement whatsoever. His relationship to his sons is marred by this pessimism. His relationship to his people is marred by it. His relationship to Gandalf and other foreign leaders who later take over from him is marred by it. And yes, even his rejection of the true King is the consequence of Denethor’s grim expectations of the future. Eventually, he withdraws more and more in his escapist individualist world of misconceived personal honor.

Denethor, in other words, is invested heavily in defeat. And this personal investment in defeat has influenced those under him. For all his wisdom and strength and knowledge and power, his personal expectations of the future bears heavily on their collective attitude. The period of peace and prosperity fails to produce growth. It fails to produce progress and conquest. When the leader is invested heavily in defeat, his people accept defeat as inevitable, and they work toward defeat as well. So much are they invested in defeat, that in the final account, it is foreign leaders and troops who save Gondor from final ruin.

Invested in defeat is exactly the most conspicuous characteristic of our modern American Denethor Ministries. For many American Christians who have grown up with these ministries and have listened to them for many years, this fact is not that visible – just as the water in the aquarium is not that visible to the fish in it. Every time I point to this investment in defeat, I meet bewilderment, “But wait, I have heard Mohler, or Graham, or MacArthur, talk about victory.” But for those of us who have lived through Communism and have seen its fall, and have seen the rise of societies driven by historical optimism, these ministries are heavily pessimistic, and heavily invested in defeat.

Yes, yes, every now and then they would mention victory. But their “victory” is always hyper-spiritualized, it always has to do with personal emotional or spiritual or moral issues. Or it has to do with Christ’s First or Second Coming. It’s always a “victory” of some cliché, like “We have victory on the Cross,” or “Our victory is in Christ,” or “our victory is when Christ comes,” etc. It is never victory in history, its never in the world outside our personal spiritual and emotional cloisters. The very slang of these ministries is specifically designed to create a dichotomy between the personal emotional and spiritual life of a person and the world outside. Phrases like, “here and not yet,” “we are royal exiles,” or “living a Kingdom life, or a redeemed life, in a fallen world,” or “living a Christian life in a post-Christian world,” etc., etc. . . . all these phrases have one purpose: to limit whatever victory and optimism there is to individual salvation, while at the same time proclaiming that the culture as a whole, or the society as a whole, or the institutions in that society, are doomed to remain unredeemed, wicked, and hostile to God.

More than that. The rhetoric of such celebrities and ministries is specifically geared toward rejecting any possibility for any cultural change to the good, in favor of the Gospel. Yes, in the last 2 years Franklin Graham suddenly discovered that our culture has become more and more pagan. And we saw his excessive political activism in favor the political party that traditionally has most evangelicals like him in its back pocket. But just 6 years ago that same Graham said in an interview that, “First of all, the Bible didn’t tell me to do that. I can’t Christianize this culture. The god of this world is Satan – this is his culture. He is the god of this age. I’m to preach the gospel. …. God is calling a people for Himself. I don’t know whom He’s calling, I just have to be faithful and preach.” This was in December 2009. And it wasn’t an isolated statement. He has made statements like that since the very beginning of his career: “I can’t Christianize the culture, I am here just to preach the Gospel.” His father made such statements regularly, in his career of an evangelist. When speaking of Christian Europe and Christendom in the past, Billy Graham liked to say, “You must remember that the worst part of history was in the Dark Ages, when the church ran everything.” (This is recorded in Marshall Frady’s biographical work, Billy Graham: A Parable of American Righteousness, p. 245.)

Albert Mohler is not far behind. In fact, due to his adoption of the dualism of the Two Kingdoms rhetoric that has been recently revived by the Westminster Seminary at Escondido, he has said many times in his podcasts and interviews, that “Christian culture is impossible and is not the purpose of the Gospel.” In an interview with Peter Wehner over a book Wehner wrote on politics, Albert Mohler made sure he specifically mentioned this. Accordingly, he doesn’t have much optimism about the future; in his several commentaries on the pro-sodomy laws, regulations, and court decisions of the last several years, Mohler was sure to always add that these are signs of worse things to come upon the church. Of course, with such open pessimism about the future, and with such belief in the impossibility of Christian culture based on the Gospel, all of Albert Mohler alleged “Biblical worldview” boils down to helpless observation of what is happening, without any clear call to action as to how Christians can turn history around. Turning around history is not even an option in his so-called “Biblical worldview.”

And again, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Every single week, hundreds of ministries in America repeat the same sentiments on TV shows, radio shows, on the internet, in blogs, etc. “This is how the end begins,” “persecution is coming,” “you don’t polish the brass on a sinking ship,” “the new world order is here,” etc., etc., etc. I remember some time ago when I still used to attend Brannon Howse’s Worldview Weekend event when he would come to Houston, I was excited when Howse developed an assessment of modern events based on a Biblical worldview. Soon, though, it became clear that his point was not to issue a call to action for Christians to reverse the trend, but only to tell them what is going on while they helplessly watch the forces of the enemy take over the culture in the last days. At some point he even criticized the postmillennialists who thought that the trends of the last days can be reversed towards a victory of the Gospel in history. At that point I realized that the true name for Brannon Howse’s ministry should be not Worldview Weekend but World-end Week-view and I stopped attending it. And it goes to the lowest levels. The pastor of a small Baptist church we used to attend some time ago, when, one day, I shared with him my optimism about the future, looked at me astonished, “You believe anything can be turned around, with all that is happening around us?” And this is still nothing; missionaries go to the mission field with the same attitude, my friends, yes, missionaries. I have met missionaries who, after many years on the field, haven’t had much success, tell me, “But that’s exactly what we are supposed to expect in the last days.” And if you ask them, “Why are you then on the mission field, wasting other people’s money on an undertaking you know is hopeless?”, they will be very, very offended. But the pessimism they have been imbued with from their seminaries and pastors and the whole Christian attitude in the US will always prevent them from seeing the obvious and thinking logically about the connection between their beliefs and the fruit they bear in their ministries.

And the same applies to the tens of millions of Christians in the United States who diligently write the checks for those ministries, billions of dollars every year. For an outside observer this is madness: Christians pour billions of dollars into men and ministries who believe in defeat, and thus subsidize their own defeat. Like Denethor, we are all, as a church, invested in defeat, billions of dollars every year. We have accepted the inevitability of defeat . . . no, worse than that, we have have accepted that defeat is so normative that we should even subsidize it.

Is it then strange that after so many years of pro-life efforts, gun rights efforts, homeschool lobbyism efforts, anti-statism efforts, we continue losing cultural and legislative battles? We as a church haven’t invested in victory; we don’t believe victory is possible. Our own ministries have told us so, our own teachers and preachers and seminary professors and Christian book authors have told us so . . . and when we go to the voting booth, we go with the firm conviction that nothing of what we do in that booth actually matters, because we know, deep in ourselves, that nothing can reverse the course of history. We don’t believe it is possible to get the government out of education and leave homeschoolers alone; therefore we don’t do anything toward that end. We don’t believe abortion can be abolished and treated legislatively and judicially as murder; therefore we don’t do anything toward that end. We don’t believe it is possible to ban government attempts at destroying the Second Amendment; therefore we don’t do anything toward that end. All that we believe in is rearguard action while we retreat toward deeper cultural irrelevance and obscurity. And of course, as if it is not sufficient to waste billions of dollars on church and parachurch ministries to produce nothing but decline and retreat, we also willingly waste money on lobbyist gangs of lawyers – like the NRA, the HSLDA, various pro-life organization, the ADF, etc., not to mention hundreds of professional Republican politicians – whose agenda is to perpetuate the cultural and legislative problems so that they can have talking points each year when they ask for our continuing donations. Ever thought how it is that in the last 40 years we had 20 years of Republican Presidents and 24 years of Republican majorities in Congress, and things still get worse, legislatively. Ever thought how it is that all these lobbyist gangs of lawyers who are supposedly conservative and Christian has nothing to show for their money except for a few small imaginary successes here and there?

It’s our own fault. We have believed our church celebrities, and we have invested heavily in defeat. Invested, in the real meaning of that word: we have put our money into it. Let that sink. If we have not invested in defeat, we wouldn’t get defeat. When the homeschool movement in the 1960s invested in victory, it got victory. Ironically, it took 40+ years for most Denethor ministries to even acknowledge its existence, let alone speak in its favor. It was too “triumphalist” for their taste, y’know, too much focused on a better future in history, for them to be willing to support it. But now that its visible success is obvious, many of these Denethor celebrities are beginning to express, half-mouth, some thought that perhaps it may be proven expedient for Christian parents to prayerfully consider pulling their kids out of the government schools. Just in case, y’know. But the homeschool movement is a clear example that when even a small portion of Christians invest in victory in history, what they get is victory in history. And that defeat is not normative; it is the logical consequence of investment in defeat.

Yes, folks, you heard that. Defeat is not normative. Not even decline is normative. In fact, if anything, we have a promise in Isaiah 9:7, which is a promise for the world after the First Coming of Christ, that “of the increase of Christ’s government and peace there shall be no end.” Of the INCREASE. Yes, yes, limited regions of the world, for limited periods of time will experience some decline; but such decline is only the result of the church’s investment in defeat. In the final account, future generations will look with astonishment at this generation of Christians in America and be astonished at how much we had, and how little we accomplished – if we have accomplished anything at all. And the reason for this is our willingness to support and follow Denethor ministries, and adopt their Denethorian ideology of the future: certain defeat, and no chance of victory.

And the next generation better take notes.

The book we will assign for reading this week is Gary North’s Millennialism and Social Theory. In many ways this book follows the lead of that most unique and most important book ever written in Christendom. R. J. Rushdoony’s The Foundations of Social Order. (We will talk about that book in another episode.) Gary North takes up the task of showing how our eschatology affects our social theory. And therefore how it affects our social action. And therefore, if we want to be consistent and connect the dots in our thinking and practice today, we should look at the dismal results we have been getting, and trace the source back to the dismal theology and eschatology we have been buying . . . literally buying, making its peddlers millionaires and billionaires. The book will open your eyes to that connection, and will give you the ideas of what needs to be changed in your eschatology – and in the eschatology of your pulpit – in order to see history turned around.

And don’t forget me and my work and my mission field in Bulgaria. When I started 20 years ago, I started with the full confidence that the future of Bulgaria will be a demonstration of the power of the Gospel to change history. No matter how small our resources were, I knew there will be growth. I just didn’t expect it so quick. I thought it would come after several generations. Well, I was surprised. It came much earlier. Donating to is not donating to a Denethor ministry, but to a ministry that is invested in growth victory, and already has much to show for the money.

God bless you all, as you turn your minds from defeat, and then turn history around.