Kevin DeYoung’s Gorbachevian Perestruvka Will Fail
Almost immediately after the term perestroika was declared an official policy of the Soviet Communist Party in Gorbachev’s speech on March 6, 1986, and by extension adopted by the satellite Communist parties in Eastern Europe, the popular opinion in Bulgaria dubbed it with the Bulgarian word perestruvka, meaning “fake,” “dissimulation,” “feint.” Not that people didn’t trust Gorbachev; he seemed to be a fine fellow, much better than his Politburo buddies. It’s just everyone knew the nature of the system itself; the system both as an ideology and as an institutional setting. No sane person harbored any illusion that the system itself would allow for anything to “restructure” it. (Perestroika means “restructuring.”)
It didn’t take long for reality to prove that the word perestruvka was a much better name for the policy than perestroika. It quickly became clear – painfully, to some of us – that the perestroika rhetoric was nothing else but an attempt of the institutional system to survive in the face of a total loss of credibility and legitimacy, not to mention a failure to supply the main promise of the ideology, namely, economic supremacy over the capitalist West. The reasons for the failures were obvious, of course: a rotten ideology which had produced a rotten institutional system. The solutions were obvious, of course: ditch the ideology, and ditch the institutional system which it created, and seek solutions outside the paradigm of the 70-year-old Soviet system. But this the government in Moscow – and the satellites in Warsaw, East Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, Prague, and Sofia – couldn’t afford to consider as a possibility. There was a party elite that was dependent on the institutional system, and that elite rightly feared that ditching the institutional system will inevitably lead to ditching the elite which ran the system for its own profit.
In the face of such challenge, the system resorted to the good old propaganda pitch of a false appeal to authority. There was a challenge to the institutional system; that much couldn’t be denied. But the two sides of this challenge were defined as the “legal government” and the “anarchists.” On one side, there were the legitimate rulers of the Communist elite who had “sinned,” perhaps, but they were working on solution within the “system of law.” On the other hand were the neformaly, the “informals,” the subcultures within the society who wanted no institutional system, who wanted just to do as they pleased, without any restrictions. You know, these people who never got any steady job in one of Communist factories, never took part in any party meeting or even trade union meeting, etc. So, there, the Party said, stick with us, the real institutional authority. Yes, we may have failed a bit, and we may need a bit of restructuring (perestroika) here and there, but one thing is sure: there is no real legitimate institutional authority except with us. The alternative is chaos. Be faithful, keep plodding, keep working in our factories, don’t try to change the world, don’t imagine yourself a globe-trotting rock star, the solution will come only within our institutional system, because it is the only legitimate system and the only legitimate authority. There is no real alternative.
Naturally, the fact was conveniently omitted that there was a third side to the debate, much more systematic and reasonable than the other two, namely, the dissident side which said that the institutional system of the Communist Party was itself illegitimate and had to go, and replaced with a better and more lawful system. First, it had no legitimate authority because it came to power by a violent revolution and continues keeping itself in power through the threat of violent repressions. Second, no amount of perestroika can solve the problems of an institution that is in itself rotten, and in itself the source of all the failures. With the official propaganda being silent about this legitimate side of the debate, it was clear that the perestroika was a sham, a perestruvka. The ruling elite was not honest about trying to fix the problems of the society. The only “problem” they were trying to fix was the problem of their remaining in power. If that meant they had to fake some “restructuring,” they’d do it. But they had no intention of offering real solutions to the real problems their own rule had created.
Just this last week I mentioned this false appeal to authority as one of the methods of Soviet propaganda, in my Axe to the Root Podcast. More specifically, I mentioned it as one of the methods used by the modern ministry-industrial complex in the US to keep its listeners dependent on it and to keep their checks coming in. Little did I know that within a couple of days, one of the representatives of that ministry-industrial complex, Kevin DeYoung, would give me a perfect example of the use of that propaganda pitch. So perfect, so classical, and so crystal-clear that reading it made me shudder, reminding me of the times 30 years ago, in Eastern Europe.
It’s DeYoung’s article, “Stop the Revolution. Join the Plodders,” on the Ligonier website. In it, he blasts the “revolutionaries,” that is, those who want to ditch institutional religion. By “institutional religion” he means something which he calls “the church.” He doesn’t give his definition of “the church,” but the context makes it clear he is talking about the current prevailing institutional system which calls itself “church.” You know, the same system of which DeYoung is part of, and which provides for his regular paychecks and royalties. The system that I talked about in my previously mentioned podcast: a conglomerate of denominations, publishing houses, mission boards, local churches, seminaries, ministries, lobbyist and lawyers’ guilds, all devoted to the task of taking advantage of the market of donations, that is, the market of millions of Christians who want to see some godly leadership and teaching, and are willing to donate money to see it happen. This conglomerate I called by the name “ministry-industrial complex,” and one thing that can be said about it is that it has harmed the church – the real church – much more than it has helped, and it has appropriated money for a job it has never really done, nor ever had the intention to do. Instead, billions of dollars down the road, the church under the influence of that ministry-industrial complex is much weaker than before, and the culture is much less Christian than before, and Christians lose one battle after another in our culture, while spending money on “ministers” who can’t seem to be able – or willing – to train them to be victorious.
DeYoung draws the lines in a good old Gorbachevian way: On one hand he sees the “church,” the rightful authority, the established institutional setting, the well-maintained structure of faithful plodders . . . and their ministerial overlords, we should add. On the other hand he sees the “informals,” the anarchists, the people who don’t want to plod and obey authority. Those people who are leaving the “church” by leaving the institutional rightful authority. You know, those with the Che Guevara t-shirts who only want a revolution, not a life of productive plodding. Those who envision themselves as globe-trotting rock stars who chide foreign governments but never had a steady job and never sent their checks to DeYoung’s ministry-industrial complex. It’s just a simple conflict: the good guys vs. the bad guys. Law and order vs. anarchy and destruction.
You see, the institutional “church” may not be perfect, but no matter what it is, it is a rightful authority, don’t forget this. This is the foundation of DeYoung’s argument. That is, if it is not the present institutional setting, it is not a “church,” and therefore it is not a rightful authority. He doesn’t say what exactly makes his institutional “church” a real church. He just assumes it. “We are the real church, guys, the real authority, and these others are anti-church.”
He doesn’t allow for the thought that perhaps his institution is not properly the Church of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t allow for the existence of the thousands of people who are leaving his institutional system and are taking the church with them, to start it anew, because false shepherds like DeYoung have corrupted it. He calls their exodus “immaturity,” and he doesn’t allow for the possibility that it is exactly the immaturity created by himself and his own class of “ministry” swindlers that is driving these people out. In short, DeYoung’s argument would have condemned Luther. It leaves no place for reforming the church without its present leadership and its institutional system. Indulgences all the way, folks!
The truth is opposite to what DeYoung says. These people who are leaving his “institutional religion” are not leaving the church. DeYoung and his “ministerial” buddies are not the church and have never been the church, and have no more authority to speak for the church than Johann Eck had in 1521. DeYoung’s “revolutionaries” are not leaving the church, they are taking it with them. They are the Shekinah-Glory cloud leaving the Temple in AD 60 and going to the Mount of Olives where there was no building nor structure, but where the last prayer of the true Lord of the Church was pronounced in His earthly body. Their leaving leaves DeYoung churchless, left alone with a mass of people he prefers to have around him: faceless, passive, apathetic, willing to hear the same empty useless “sermons” every week, willing to go through the same senseless ceremonial motions every week, people perfectly content to leave the world exactly the way they found it, in the same darkness, injustice, ignorance, and abortion rate as it was when they joined the “church.” Or even worse, who cares. That’s life, as DeYoung says. Such people who are willing to leave the things as they are do not have the Holy Spirit. A person baptized in the Holy Spirit is not a person who yearns for the same thing over and over again every day, the same useless rituals, the same useless sermons, the same useless church programs, the same useless session meetings, the same useless lobbyist rallies. A man baptized in the Holy Spirit is a man baptized in fire. Fire can mean many things, but whatever it symbolizes, it certainly doesn’t symbolize DeYoung’s boring, static, passive, complacent state of vegetating. If these people are the “authentic community” DeYoung wants, then he doesn’t want a community powered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, he doesn’t want a church.
The people DeYoung inveighs against are not starting a revolution. They are stopping it. They are acting as a counter-revolutionary force. The revolution has already happened, in the last one century. It was the revolution that killed the real church – the church that was a covenant community, and was taking the world by storm. That was the revolution that brought to power in the church the same ministry-industrial complex of celebrities and professional fund-raisers that DeYoung is now part of. That ministry-industrial complex is the usurper; and DeYoung, as a part of it, is a usurper too. He needs to go. All of his buddies need to go. The pulpits must be purged of this illegal brood of vipers which has kept the church on milk and hot air – mostly hot air – for over 50 years. The fruit of that ministry-industrial complex is obvious in America in the last several decades: there’s barely an aspect of the American society that hasn’t been affected by the victorious march of neo-paganism. And that’s not because paganism is powerful. It is because the church members have been passive and incompetent and pessimistic and immature. And why are they so? Because of DeYoung’s institutional system. The fruit clearly reveals the root. There is no way that a true church would turn a previously Christian culture into a pagan culture. The true church does the other way around. When a system – like the one DeYoung defends – has absorbed billions of dollars only to produce defeat, then this system is a counterfeit church. It’s time for it to go. The people leaving it are only trying to stop the breakdown, not to cause one.
DeYoung’s system has only preached milk for decades. Yes, the same milk that the author of Hebrews tells us to leave behind and move on (Heb. 5:11-6:2). And what is DeYoung’s solution to the problems with people leaving his so-called “church”? More appreciation of the same milk.
It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection.
In other words, people are leaving because they do not appreciate their milk anymore. No wonder. Those who have the Holy Spirit want to move on from being permanently excited about childish things to working as mature men. May be they want to do something about that message, not just hear about it from the pulpit and experience sweet meltdowns over it. When an institution continues offering only milk – in opposition to Hebrews 6:1-2 – it is clear that institution is not a church.
The fact that DeYoung only mentions in passim the need – possibly – for the “church” to change, shows very clearly he is not serious about anything. The judgment starts from the House of God (1 Pet. 4:17); and the teachers in the church receive a greater judgment (James 3:1). This clearly shows where God’s priorities are when we talk about change, correction, or judgment. Apparently, this is not where DeYoung’s priorities lie. He thinks the “church” only “possibly” needs change, while all these who are leaving that “church” are certainly immature. With DeYoung’s priorities opposed to God’s priorities, he is certainly not speaking for the church.
And he is certainly not serious. His is just another version of the Gorbachevian perestruvka. That is, a sham, a fake, a dissimulation.
And just like the Gorbachevian perestruvka, it will ultimately fail. The exodus from the institutional system DeYoung defends was not caused by not enough Soviet-style propaganda, and can not be fixed by more Soviet-style propaganda. The reason for it is covenant realities, not psychological perceptions. It has nothing to do with “boredom,” or “globe-trotting rock stars,” or Che Guevara t-shirts. It has everything to do with the fact that the institutional system DeYoung defends is a fake, and it has been designed as a fake from the very beginning when it replaced the church. It was designed to destroy the real church, and it was designed to destroy the victories of the church in the West in the last several centuries.
The Soviet system looked eternal and imposing and immovable until the very last minute when it fell. When it fell, many were deeply shocked and surprised. Only a few had seen the signs of its collapse years before that. The signs were not many and not spectacular, but they spoke enough to those who could discern the times.
In the same way, the institutional system of the ministry-industrial complex in the US may look quite stable right now, and quite established in its claim to be the “church.” But the exodus of young people from it – similar to the exodus of people from the former Soviet bloc – is one of the many small signs that the system is losing credibility. It may continue lingering for a while, but its days are numbered. And its shepherds will receive a greater judgment.
So DeYoung better leave it with these young people, and join a real church. Before it’s too late.