Help! I’ve been Rickrolled – Responses to my Socialist/Capitalist Articles

So there I was, waiting for the phone call from Reformation 21. You know the “Thanks for your critique of Rick Phillip’s post but you got it wrong. However, in the interests of balance, we wondered if you could write an article for Ref 21 explaining why pastors should preach against the evils of Capitalism.” But they never called. Instead I got this –


I hope you will read it but here are the highlights….

Areas of Agreement:

Rick repudiates associating the gospel with any economic or political theory. He also does not agree with those who accuse me of breaching the 9th commandment just because of my responses. Given that these are the two things we agree on in the article I will not write more about them – but suffice it to say that I think they are the two most important things and I appreciate Rick saying them.

But in the belief that iron sharpens iron, and that it is better for Christian brothers to clarify things through discussion rather than name calling, perhaps I can just clear up some of the misunderstandings in Rick’s post? Basically, I don’t think that anyone reading my articles could have picked up what he seems to have picked up from them. I would suggest you read them as well as all three of Rick’s to judge for yourself, as I am not going to repeat everything I said in them (you will find the links above, below or within the articles).

But for those who can’t be bothered let me just make the following observations – I do so because by only reading Rick’s article people could come up with a rather unfair picture of yours truly.

1) Rick was a wee bit surprised that I “Exploded with indignation that violations of biblical ethics should be highlighted with respect to economic/political systems.”

So was I when I read this. When I first saw Rick’s article I did not explode with indignation (my first reaction was laughter as I thought it was a spoof, my second was sorrow).

Doubtless it helps Rick’s cause to portray me as some kind of angry ranter, but it is not helpful. Nor is it helpful to caricature your opponent’s arguments in such a way that you end up having him say what he did not say. I never said, nor indeed would ever say, that violations of biblical ethics should not be highlighted with respect to economic/political systems. That was naughty, Mr Phillips. Next time be a little more considered in your response.

2) I gave a multi-part tirade much of which ranged beyond what he wrote or thought. 

Well apart from the ‘Tirade’ part. That is true. I did give a multi (three) part response, although only the first one was a response to his article.  The other two were reflections in general on the relationship between economics, politics, culture and the church in the US. That was made very clear in the articles.

I would offer two words of advice to Rick. Firstly when you are arguing against someone, don’t try to cheapen the debate or mock your opponent by dissing all he says as a ‘Tirade’. Personally I thought it was a considered and well thought out response! You could have done me the same favour I did you – taken the time to respond to my point, avoided the knee jerk reaction or just kept a dignified silence and leave me to stew in my own juice!

Secondly, you need to remember what an old minister once told me was the key to surviving in ministry – ‘It ain’t all about you’.

3) I accused him of wanting to associate the gospel with capitalism.

Again, if you read the article, I didn’t actually do that. I was fully aware of the somewhat limited critique of capitalism he makes. What I did point out was that this plays into the hands of many ‘Evangelicals’ in the US who do associate Christianity with Capitalism.

Rick wrote:

Capitalism does not offer salvation: only Jesus can deliver us from our sins. Socialism, on the other hand, is a manifestly evil system from which we should pray to be delivered.”

Would Rick write that Capitalism is a manifestly evil system? He accepts that Capitalism is wrong when evil people run it (as a good Reformed theologian he will know that means everyone!), but he says that Socialism is per se evil. Therefore anyone who is a socialist, votes for a socialist, or advocates socialism in any way is supporting an evil system and should be preached against!

Rick and others may think this is being subtle – but it is not. It is the advocation of one political system over another in the name of the Bible and it is done, not on the basis of biblical exegesis, but cultural prejudice.

So, Rick’s answers for why socialism is evil are:

“So, biblically speaking, why is socialism evil? Let me suggest three reasons: 1. Because socialism is a system based on stealing; 2. Because socialism is an anti-work system; and 3. Because socialism concentrates the power to do evil.” I have already responded to them.

But they are as ridiculous as if I said that capitalism is evil for exactly the same reasons (and I could easily make the case).

The difference between myself and Rick is that whilst we both agree no economic/political system can save us, Rick thinks one system is de facto evil whilst the other is redeemable. I happen to think all human systems, including capitalism and socialism, without Christ are evil.

If Reformation 21 and Rick were not extolling the virtues of capitalism over socialism, then I look forward to the article on why capitalism is evil.  Is it too cynical for me to say that such an article would never appear in a mainstream US Reformed publication because of the financial implications?

Rick wrote:

Christians and pastors can and should speak out on evils such as racism, government sponsored torture, or, in this case, socialism.”

If he could add the word ‘capitalism’ to that list, and equate capitalism with racism and torture, then we would be agreed.

4) I accused him of rejecting the obligation to pay taxes.

Again I am afraid that is not true. I responded to those (including a bizarre post from RC Sproul Jr) who argued that position, but I did not think that Rick was advocating it.

However Rick did say:

“While there is a legitimate basis for government taxation, the simple taking of one’s possessions in order to give them to others is not one of them.”

Thus caricaturing socialism in a rather silly way. The government does not come to my house, take my computer and give it to someone else. I pay taxes for what the government provides. In a democracy I can vote for different parties that offer different provision, but if I don’t agree with what my taxes are being used for then I still can’t call it stealing.

Christ told us that we are to give to Caesar’s what is Caesars’, when he was asked about a manifestly unjust and wrong tax system. All I did was point out that Rick’s position seems to be that if there are taxes he does not agree with, he can call it stealing. Capitalist taxes are fair. Socialist taxes are stealing.

5) I was correct in saying that he did not distinguish between ‘Nuanced varieties of socialism’.

Again note how language is used. As though Sweden or Scotland were just ‘Nuances’ of Mao or Stalin! The fact is that Rick did lump all socialists together – and I am glad that he admitted that.

Another admission was interesting:

“Second, I admit that it was Communists who built walls around their countries (although I would point out the second S in USSR as supporting my claim that socialists have done this).”

Which reminded me of the atheists I often argue with who say that because the KKK claim to be Christian, then all Christians are racists!

6) My fantastic projections transformed Rick into a caricature of what I do not like about America.

I suspect that ‘Fantastic’ here does not mean ‘Brilliant!’ Again Rick is just demeaning the argument by name-calling. I would have preferred some meaningful interaction. The innuendo and name calling is one thing but it is a pretty cheap trick to play the ‘anti-American’ card, especially when you are writing to an American audience, who are unlikely to see my response and so, in their heads, the seed is sown that I am anti-American. Of course there is nothing that I can do to stop the charge being believed. It is a means to try and get one to shut up, and if that doesn’t work, to discredit what one says so that no one listens. As I said, a cheap trick.

If you read the other articles you will see that I specifically disavow anti-Americanism. My reason for writing as I did was not to attack America, nor to defend socialism, but simply to express my disappointment that Reformation 21 was taking an overtly political line and to warn about the dangers of doing that. It is a basic courtesy to accept the stated motives of the person writing, and not to attribute to them false and racist motives.

I suspected that this anti-American card would be played (and it disappoints me how often it is used and how effective it appears to me) so I cited someone who could never be described as anti-American; John Ross a conservative in every sense of the word!

The article is bizarre and unworthy of an intelligent man like Rick Phillips. It betrays any intelligent attempt at serious analysis and utterly fails to distinguish the underlying concerns and motives of the modern democratic Left, whose philosophical roots and social conscience lie less in Marxism and more in the Christian teaching of compassion and acceptance of the fact that we are our brother’s keepers.”

But apparently to no avail!

6) My response was hysterical

Again this is just an attempt to demean what was supposed to be a serious and thought through article.  In this instance it was prayed through as well because I knew how some people would pick it up and I’m aware of how the gossip scene works in the Christian church and the various Reformed networks. As someone wrote me, ‘you can forget any funding from the US now!’ Ironically that was one of the points in my second article!  I hope that it is not true and that the church is not that shallow!

But to end on a positive note.

Rick also wrote;

What I do know is how much I respect and honor David Robertson as an outstanding Christian and I will continue to pray for him in his apologetic labors on behalf of the gospel in the land of Scotland.

That is nice and appreciated but I’m afraid I have to disagree with him again! I am not an outstanding Christian although I do appreciate Rick’s, or anyone’s, prayers and in no way do I take what he said as personal. I just disagree with some of it!

I don’t know Rick – although I do know someone I respect in his congregation – and his judgement is enough for me to think that Rick is a fine and Godly minister. But the article was not personal – neither about Rick or me.

I think it is good that Christians can have these kinds of discussions in public, rather than the behind closed doors stuff that I have so often seen.  You know, the ones where in public it is said, “We love you, brother. Love the work you are doing” yet in private it’s, “Can’t stand that guy. How do we cripple him?!”

I just wish that Reformation 21 would allow a response to Rick’s attack on socialism as evil on its own website. Here’s why.

I actually do care about the church in the US, not just in Scotland.

Several times when I have been over I have met with young people who are disillusioned and fed up with the identification of the gospel with one particular political and economic system and elites. I have tried to show the young people that one can be biblical and Reformed and not have to buy into the whole cultural/political message that unofficially goes along with it. I have met pastors who recognise this but are scared to speak out, and I despair. Tying the gospel and the church to a sinking political ship (whether of right or left) is always disastrous.

Some of the responses to my article from Americans were greatly encouraging. Others less so. As I write I am just hearing about how more ‘Evangelicals’ in Mississippi voted for Donald Trump than anyone else and, if true, I despair. What monster have we bred?!

Maybe Reformation 21’s constituency needs to hear more about the evils of Trump than it does of Sanders? Just a thought.

Anyway for my few American friends that are left I leave you with this promise:


  1. Abraham Kuyper, were he alive today, would be appalled at what we propagate as American Reformed Christians, over the air waves and through books on these issues. Ligonier, for instance, is promoting Sproul Jr’s book, “Economics for Everybody.” It’s tough swimming against the tide here. Please continue to speak.

  2. Some further thoughts based on Warren’s recent linked blogg from which the quotations are taken and which refer to David’s trilogy.

    I trust the quotes are not isolated out of context.

    1 David’s three-parter “ranged far beyond anything I wrote or thought” . I thought your three articles brought a balance.

    2 Warren’s problem was with “horrific urban landscpes” which Warren astonishingly (to me) states, “Having been indeed founded by sinful abuses of capitalism, they have been perfected by government enforced socialistic programs.” Although I have not read the original Warren article he is quoted as saying “biblically speaking… socialism is evil” Is he saying that capitalism isn’t evil per se, but only in it’s “foundational” application, but socialism is evil both per se and in application “perfected” by enforced socialistic programs. Or is socialism now only evil in application? I’m confused. If I may make one comment here that applies to both systems- abuse is not of itself an argument for non use but could be an argument for correct use.

    3 In a rudimentary way I’ve commented on “theft” and “coercion” in other the other articles on this theme, but there are Christians in the public sevices in the UK who would take umbridge at Warren’s second reason that socialism iis unbiblical “2. Because socialism is an anti-work system” There are many points that could be made in response, but the one I want to emphasise is this: a Christian employee,a service provider, in furtherence of the application of the “golden rule” would always be looking to ask themselves, “Am I providing a service I’d like to receive?” It is a deeply challengeing question, no matter who we are or where or in which system or field we are engaged.

    4 I’m pleased that Warren seems to be seeking to disconnect both systems from the gospel, though It doesn’t appear to be in an even handed way.

    5 For all those with Keller’s devotional book on the psalms could I urged a pondering of today’s reading, especially the closing prayer. It could be apposite all round.

      1. I’m glad you liked my response – and you are completely correct – it is not near as complete as yours. I confess, had I read your original responses to Rick Phillips before I sent mine off to Refomation21, I’d not have bothered – yours has covered much more than I could in the limit requested. And I am encouraged by the balance you have struck in your critique of our too materialistic and nationalistic American Church.

        I assure you I did not have you in mind when I alluded to free church Scots – I’ve also met evangelical Englishmen who were members of Labour and bemoaned “New Labour” for its lack of socialist zeal. But I thought Phillips might respect Scots more.

        I hope to follow your ministry a bit in the future, now that one of my friends who saw the Ref21 article has made me aware of it. And thank you for your larger explorations – I pray you will be strengthened against our American arrogance and self-righteousness.

        Richard R. Follett
        Professor of History
        Covenant College

      2. Thanks Richard….Americans don’t have a monopoly on arrogance and self-righteousness – us Scots can manage that pretty well too! Please do keep in touch….love Covenant College!

  3. It is always a bemusement to Americans that in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, Reformed Christians tend to vote Labour . . . to the US Christian Socialist = “baby killer” and that affects all other points you might want to make about your politics.

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