Author Kevin Swanson is attempting to trace the philosophical and literary threads that have shaped our modern Western civilization. He believes that the ideas created by certain influential thinkers and authors are responsible for the destruction of the Christian West. These ideas are now being popularized by influencial forms of media and entertainers and absorbed by the majority of people. The result is a perfect storm that will result in the collapse of the world system as we know it.
Swanson focuses his attention on numerous philosophers from Thomas Aquinas to Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche, and five literary giants: Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Twain, Hemingway and Steinbeck who he holds responsible for the present apostasy, the rise of humanism and the decline of Western civilization (pp. 3, 19). He calls these men Nephilm after the corrupt giants who lived before the flood (p. 18). Surprisingly, Thomas Aquinas is the first of Swanson’s Nephilm because he attempted to create a synthesis between humanist philosophy and revelation (p. 39), thus untethering truth from Scripture. The later philosophers, beginning with Descartes, build upon Aquinas’ thesis. Descartes’ quest for knowledge was centered in self rather than the Word (pp. 47-48). John Locke would be the 18th century link in the triumph of humanist rationalism (p. 34). Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the mastermind behind humanist society. Karl Marx took Rousseau’s ideas to the even more devastating ends of socialism and ultimately communism. Darwin provided the scientific theory which rendered God unnecessary. Nietzsche advanced his predecessor’s hypothesis to their logical nihilistic conclusions. John Dewey incorporated these theories into the public school system (p. 162), and Jean-Paul Sartre added existentialism to the mix (p. 172-173).
In the second part of the book Swanson turns to the five literary Nephilm, and here his arguments are considerably weaker. In many cases he draws huge conclusions from little data, fosters rumors (such as Shakespeare possibly being a homosexual) (pp. 200-201), and fails to see that much of these author of written works repelled rather than attracted readers to their views. For example, while some were drawn to Hemingway’s lifestyle, most would see the despair and waste both in his life and works. Steinbeck’s tragic stories would be much the same. Swanson chooses to see nothing of value in Huckleberry Finn, virtually claiming Mark Twain made up the views of slavery found within, without appreciating that Twain reflected the times more than he created them. The Scarlet Letter did in fact project a distortion of the Puritans, but it also analyzed well the effects of sin. Swanson chooses to see Hawthorne’s message as one of self-atonement rather than the devastation of guilt. Swanson is correct, however, that these authors either left God entirely out of their writings or misrepresented Him. This does not mean that their works were pure evil. Often they portray realistically the godless lifestyle they write about and are not necessarily a polemic against Christianity. Nevertheless, they must be read with biblical discernment—a point Swanson makes well.
The final part moves to the present age and the influence of media, technology and entertainment which are now perpetuating the philosophy of humanistic thinking described in the first two parts. There is little question that present day media and the entertainment world are firmly in the grasp of godless people who reject biblical Christianity. Swanson thinks that much of the Christian church has turned to these mediums in the name of contextualization (p. 283). Yet the author hurts his case by painting with a broad brush, vilifying most evangelicals for the sins of a few (see p. 284).
The last chapter presents more clearly the author’s dominionist views which are laced throughout the book (pp. 29, 67, 75, 116-119, 221-223, 240, 243, 253). Swanson wants to return to Old Testament Jewish Law and sees any structure or system not in compliance with these laws as unbiblical. He believes that out of the ashes of the pending collapse of Western civilization will be a rebuilt society based on Old Testament Law (p. 292). His optimism at this point in a strong contrast with the doom and gloom found throughout the book. This optimism, while not directly stated, must rest on his acceptance of postmillennial dominionism which teaches that Christians are responsible for solving the world’s problems as well as global evangelism prior to the return of Christ. Scripture does not teach such, but rather teaches a new world system, the kingdom of God, being ushered in by Christ Himself at His return. Therefore, I cannot share Swanson’s optimism that our pre-second return of Christ efforts will result in a near utopian state.
Apostate contains much that is helpful in understanding how the Western culture became secularized. Unfortunately the book reads more like a rant than careful, thoughtful analysis. It will play well to the convinced choir, but will turn off those not already on the same page. Swanson is too quick, in my opinion, to draw direct links from individuals to cultural sins. For example, Steinbeck’s wife’s abortion is not directly the reason for the accessibility of abortion today as Swanson seems to imply (pp. 261-262). One of the most telling comments in the book is his desire to return to life as pictured in the Little House on the Prairie books (pp. 121-122, 186, 271-272). The fact is that even the Ingles did not live as portrayed in those semi-fictional accounts. Such understandings represent nostalgia, a nostalgia that does not align with historical and factual reality. And even if true, we cannot return to days gone by. The world has changed: there are more people, more complicated situations, more technology. Our task is not to return to pre-Industrial Revolutionary times, which battled its own evils, but to live biblically in our age. Swanson would not disagree with this but I believe he is too reductionistic in his analysis and too optimistic about the future.
Apostate, the Men who Destroyed the Christian West by Kevin Swanson (Parker, Colorado: Generations with Vision, 2013) pp. 312, paper 14.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel