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If you follow The Twelve with any regularity, you may recognize the name Marty Wondaal. Marty often comments on the post of the day, especially if the blog showed some left leaning tendencies.

A few months back, after my post, Let Us Not Grow Weary, Marty contacted me directly. He wrote, “I share so many cultural connections with writers at The Twelve, but my worldview seems so different. I find that tension fascinating, and am curious why that is so. I would like to make you an offer. Spend a workday with me. I own a small manufacturing business, and my daily job is to deliver products to job sites. I interact with many people every day, almost all being immigrants from all over the world. I drive a nice, spacious pickup with large rear seats. Bring a friend!”

I responded to Marty, “I am grateful for and impressed by your email, but even more by your willing spirit. I am actually touched by your offer to spend a day together. Given that you’re in Chicagoland, I know that isn’t going to happen soon. But it is very kind of you to offer.”

Unable to take up his offer to visit and ride along for the day, we agreed to a phone conversation. We also agreed that it would be more “interview” than “debate”—in other words, I wasn’t going to push-back or counter Marty’s statements. (You may do that in the comments, if you wish.) Additionally, we both wanted the conversation to be more about the deeper theological, biblical underpinnings to our politics than about the topics of the day.

*****

SMV: Just to get started, Marty, tell me a little about your background, your family, your work, your church, your faith journey.

St. John, Indiana

MW: I am married to Michelle. We have four boys, ages 23 to 11. We live in St. John, Indiana. For the last twenty years or so, we’ve gone to Faith Church in Dyer, Indiana. I grew up in Lansing, Illinois and were I was part of a Christian Reformed Church. I am a “child of the covenant.” I grew up a Christian in very culturally conservative settings. I went to Illiana Christian School. I grew up with 45 minute sermons that felt like 45 hours. But I don’t want to sound critical. I grew up knowing Reformed truths.

If I have some theme or paradigm for my faith, I think I would go back to the Heidelberg Catechism with its “sin-salvation-service.” I just read someone whom I respect a lot who said “God’s gift to us was his Son. My gift to God is how I treat others.” That’s how I would like to frame my life.

SMV: How did you find The Twelve? What led you here?

MW: I don’t remember. I think I stumbled across it. I read a lot. I’m especially interested in Christian colleges so I could have come across it when I was reading something by a certain professor or something like that.

SMV: In your original communication with me, you wondered how people with such similar cultural backgrounds as you and many of the bloggers on The Twelve could come to such different conclusions and have such apparently different worldviews. How would you answer your own question?

MW: My answer—and I’m certainly not one hundred percent certain on this—is my view of the nature of man. I’m a firm believer in total depravity. I’m a firm believer in the imperfectability of man. It’s not original to me, but I think that the basic breakdown between a left-leaning and right-leaning—for lack of better terms—view of the world is your understanding of human nature. Now I’m guessing that if you and I got into a deeper discussion, you would agree with me that the “T” in TULIP is true. But I don’t think a lot of people with a left leaning outlook really and fully embrace the depravity of man in their worldview.

(I shared here with Marty about the local tie-in of a recent column by E.J. Dionne that was in response to my Pella colleague, journalist Robert Leonard’s original column, both about human sinfulness and how our views on it may affect our politics.)

SMV: We said this would be less about politics and policy, and more about theology and those bedrock things that inform our politics. Are there other things you might add about that ?

MW: At the risk of trying to sound smarter than I am, I am western civilization-ist. I am a very big proponent of the Judeo-Christian paradigm, Athens and Jerusalem. I look back to the time of Calvin’s Geneva or the Declaration of Independence, maybe we could say the late reformation to early enlightenment, and it was all based on biblical principles. My fear is that we are getting away from that as a culture. We live in a gilded age with so much wealth and abundance—and in North America in relative safety—our culture has become decadent and our public philosophy has gotten away from God. We pay a price for that

SMV: Based on that, I would guess that things like multi-culturalism or immigration make you uneasy in that they could be seen as diluting or weakening those things.

MW: In my job in Chicago, I would estimate that about 70 percent of the people I come in contact with are immigrants and I would guess a large portion of them are illegal immigrants. I am actually a proponent of large scale immigration. I’m not a proponent of illegal immigration. The biggest struggle I have with immigration is that we live in a welfare state—and those two, open immigration and a welfare state cannot be combined. It is not sustainable.

SMV: Tell me a bit more about your work.

MW: I have a very, very small manufacturing business. I manufacture stone products for masonry applications. My employees are Hispanic, for the most part. In the Chicago area market, the vast majority of workers in construction related fields are not native born.

SMV: How do you try to live your faith in the workplace?

MW: You just have to be honest with the people you’re dealing with. For me, that starts with my employees. I’m not the world’s best boss but of the four employees I have, three have been with me since the start. We have a great relationship. They know that I treat them fairly. And with customers, I am a real big proponent of covenantal business relationships. I hate waivers and purchase orders and all the legal documentation that goes with bigger jobs. I would prefer to do my work with handshake deals.

Your reputation and how you deal with people is the way to build your business. The book of Proverbs is a great how-to book on how to do business. If you use honest weights and measures, if you do the other things prescribed in Proverbs, you are going to get ahead in life. I’m not a prosperity gospel believer, but if you just read Proverbs you realize how you should live your life and treat other people. I hope my customers see that.

SMV: Shifting more to today’s politics, let just talk about President Trump and your take on him. What would you say to the Christian critics of Trump?

MW: For a lot of things, they are right. Trump is a philistine. He’s coarse. He’s licentious. He’s spent most of his life as a libertine. He reflects the culture that elected him. Does he have concern for the poor? I don’t know. I know he comes from a gaudy apartment of Fifth Avenue. I would say that if there were what originally, twelve or fourteen Republican candidates for the presidency? Then, originally he was my fourteenth choice!

Trump is just like every other land developer I have ever come across. They are boisterous. They are self-promoters. They act like they could care less about what people think of them. They will insult you and keep coming at you until they get their way. They are always battling. Do you know what it takes to put up a project like Trump Tower in Chicago? How many people you have to either pay off or run over? I don’t want to psychoanalyze people, but I think of Trump as the kid from Queens who always wanted to be accepted by the people of Manhattan.

But I’ve been absolutely surprised—in a good way—by the things he’s accomplished already. Number one would be judges who are strict constitutionalists. I think the tax cuts are great and have done wonders for the economy. I like to think, and it does seem, that he is rolling back the regulatory state. And that is what I think really rules Washington. It isn’t the senators or president or judges. It is the bureaucracy that just keeps growing and growing—and that’s not good for a virtuous society.

Congressman Justin Amash represents Michigan’s third congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As far as Trump himself, I don’t hate the guy. But I’m really a classical libertarian. I’m a constitutionalist. I’m a small government supporter. And on foreign policy, I am a non-interventionist. If I had to identify with a specific politician, I would say I’m along the lines of Justin Amash.

SMV: How do you hang in there with The Twelve? I can tell when you put up your comments that you’re trying to engage, but not incite. You want to offer a differ view, not be a troll. When there is so much out there on the web that might be more palatable or less aggravating, why do you keep following The Twelve?

MW: Being snarky is so easy and really seductive. I try to avoid it.

I think The Twelve represents the overwhelming outlook or slant of the Reformed and Christian Reformed colleges and bureaucracies. To me that is a concern. I went to Calvin College for two years and many, many family members went there. I understand why it and other Reformed institutions have the slant they do. They want to be respected by their peers—and their peers are all secular progressives.

That is a hard tightrope to walk—not to be completely offensive to your constituency and yet at the same time pursue academic respectability. If I were ever to end up standing in line next to Betsy De Vos at the DMV or the grocery store, I’d like to ask her, “Why in the world to you give millions of dollars to Calvin College or other places like that? They hate you!” That’s only partially true, of course. But the views of the faculty are almost all on one side.

I see a lot of lumping people into groups, identity politics at the colleges, not treating people as individuals. I see these colleges bending over backwards to apologize for their histories, for being racist, and then they call that courage and honesty. That’s not courageous. I think the honest and courageous thing to do, whether at Calvin or any of these institutions, would be to stand up and say “We desperately do not want to be racist. We are built on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Reformed theology. However much we may fall short, that is our aim—to be a virtuous place. And despite our failings, we think that in so many ways we are.” But people are afraid to say things like that. Then you’d get slapped down by secular academia.

SMV: Thank you, Marty for your time and your willingness to do this.

MW: Glad to do it. It’s always more interesting to talk with people with whom you don’t agree.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

26 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    God bless you both.

  • James Schaap says:

    Thanks, Steve–a very helpful read.

  • Kathy Davelaar says:

    Such a good hearted interview! Thank you Steve and Marty.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    This should be a series, in my opinion. The more we personalize each other, the better.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Thank you, Steve, for facilitating this. Thank you, Marty for your candor and your engagement with The Twelve. But I take a very great exception to one thing you noted because I think it sets up the very “straw man” kind of scenario for which you have in the past critiqued me and others. You claim that a more left-leaning socio-political outlook on the part of people at, say, Calvin College, is understandable to you because my colleagues and I are seeking peer respect from “secular progressives.” That is an unfounded and hurtful accusation and assessment. It rules out the possibility that maybe such stances stem from our engagement with Scripture and with the theological tradition of the church (and also from what we believe the Holy Spirit leads us to embrace). If I or my Calvin colleagues wanted respect from secular progressives, we’d drop things like the belief the Bible is the inspired Word of God, that Jesus rose again from the dead, that . . . well, a whole panoply of things to which we give our spiritual and intellectual assent when we sign the “Covenant for Officebearers” (and the whole Apostles’ Creed for crying out loud). The argument that we trade our Christian convictions for a mess of secular pottage is tantamount to those who dismiss the findings of Christian scientists who believe in global climate change by saying they only write what they do in order to secure government grants. As though integrity of mind and spirit, of faith and work, could never have anything to do with it.

    • Matt Huisman says:

      I like that Scott pushed back hard on the “academic respectability” line – I would feel worse if he didn’t. On the surface it’s true that Marty can’t know what motivates each individual prof. But I’ll note a couple of things that Marty certainly gets right: 1) Christian academics are valuable and deserve more of our attention* 2) there is a disconnect between the number of left-leaning profs and their constituency (donors/parents/congregations) and it’s significant enough that it warrants some explanation beyond “we’re just following where the facts lead” 3) it doesn’t hurt those of us on the right to hang out with some talented writers** and take a comeuppance every now and then.

      Kudos to Steve for being a wonderful host.

      * Attention should almost certainly include money.
      ** Some of you are so good, that when I disagree with you I have a hard time telling if you’re just naïve or actually sinister:)

    • Marty Wondaal says:

      Scott,

      I am sorry I was hurtful to you again. It really is not my intention. After re-reading the interview, I understand your point. I’m just glad you’re a professor and not a land developer, because I was more harsh with them. But I doubt many developers read The Twelve, or care what I write.

      I do have no doubt that the faculty at Calvin College sincerely believe their left-wing convictions. It is also how they were educated in college and graduate school. Modern-day academia, particularly in the liberal arts, is overwhelmingly of a leftward worldview.

      My contention still stands, however, that employees at Christian colleges pay a price to stand up to the secular progressive zeitgeist that dominates colleges and universities. A good example of this is the experience of a prominent Calvin philosophy professor (Hoekema?) a few years ago who attempted to defend the College’s stance on homosexual behavior. He was ridiculed by his peers. It’s not easy to to stand up against the majority, especially one with totalitarian aspirations.

      So, for a variety of reasons, ideas that emanate from the College seem to be primarily of a leftist bent. White Privilege, Rape and Gun Culture, and Anti-Evangelicalism are just a few recent examples. But you are correct, Scott, that, short of denying the Resurrection, the Progressives will not be satisfied. At the end of the day, any professing Christian in academia will be viewed as just a simple retrograde hayseed like me.

      • Rika Diephouse says:

        My husband is a land developer and neither he nor I was offended. I am encouraged by this conversation. We need more honest conversations and less finger-pointing.

  • steve van't hof says:

    Wonderful conversation, and although I agree with Scott’s response I’ve also seen the flip side that Marty addresses.

    • George E says:

      Yes, that flip side was apparent in the guess that Marty would be bothered by multi-culturalism and immigration. As for Marty’s “… unfounded and hurtful accusation and assessment. It rules out the possibility that maybe such stances stem from our engagement with Scripture and with the theological tradition of the church (and also from what we believe the Holy Spirit leads us to embrace).” Would Marty be justified in regarding that statement as saying Marty is disregarding Scripture, your church’s theological tradition, and the Holy Spirit? It appears Marty is a better man, and Christian, than to react. But I agree: probably no conscious decision to suck up to secular progressives; more likely that the Calvinistas and the progs drank, and drink, from the same well a lot. It would be interesting to have Marty interview Steve, and ask: what are the periodicals and websites you regularly read? What books did you read in the last twelve months?

  • Rodger Rice says:

    With such a strong hope in individuals, Marty, how can you believe so strongly in total depravity? I like your hopefulness.

    • Marty says:

      Rodger,

      I put no hope in individuals (except for One). I do, however, believe in the idea of the supremacy of the individual, with regards to dignity, rights, responsibilities, etc. That is to say, we are Image-bearers first and members of groups second. Inverting that leads to bad places.

      • Rodger Rice says:

        Curious. What do you make of the Trinity, a group? And supremacy of the individual; I suppose you defend that with Scripture? So total depravity affects groups more than individuals? Thanks for taking time to answer. I appreciate that. You certainly know where you stand.

        • George E says:

          Can’t speak for Marty, but I’ll guess at what he might say: What he makes of the Trinity is that It is Three in One, and not a group. The supremacy of the individual: while God so loved the entire world, He appoints salvation to individuals, not groups. Taking up one’s cross daily is an individual effort, not a group project. Names of individuals, not classes or groups, are written in the book of life. Paul requested a favor for Onesimus, not for the entire set of slaves. As for total depravity affecting groups more than persons, I think he’d ask you to show him where he said that. As I say, just guessing.

  • Tom Sinke says:

    This post is excellent. Other than anything that James Schaap writes, this and your interview with Jon Last are among the best things I’ve read on “The Twelve”. I read this quite regularly and find it mostly thoughtful but frequently frustrating. Frustrating because in the middle of many excellent essays is a sideways comment that seems to take as assumed gospel truth that capitalism is based on greed, is somehow unjust, and “exploits natural and human capital with ever more impunity” (to quote another writer’s earlier post – sometimes the comments are straightforward, not sideways). I won’t speak for Marty, but what I hear him saying is that greed, injustice, and exploitation are better explained by the “T” in TULIP than by capitalism and that is what is consistently missing from this blog. To believe that leftist political systems are less susceptible to greed, injustice, and exploitation is to be ignorant of the last 100 years of world history. Capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other factor. This is so obvious that even Bono reluctantly came to see its as true.

  • Tom Sinke says:

    This is excellent. I read this blog fairly regularly and find it mostly thoughtful but often frustrating. Many times as I’m reading an excellent post comes sideways comment that infers that capitalism is based on greed, yields injustice, and “exploits natural and human capital with ever more impunity” (sometimes the comments are more straightforward than sideways). The thinking seems to be that capitalism is to blame for the nearly any injustice found in the world and, therefore, moving leftward on the political spectrum will yield a more just society and, hence, must be God’s will.
    I don’t know Marty, so I won’t speak for him, but what I hear him saying is that line of thinking minimizes the “T” in TULIP. I am a firm believer in Total Depravity, partly because I see the results of it in the world, but mostly because I see it in myself. The world is unjust because it is a fallen world.
    The evidence seems clear that capitalism yields a greater degree of justice that any other system and has lifted more people out of poverty than any other factor – just ask Bono.
    So, my biggest challenge with The Twelve (and many others from my church community) is not that it leans left – we should have arguments over levels of taxation, how healthcare should be paid for, whether affirmative action is effective, etc. It’s the insinuation that if, for instance, I believe that healthcare is not best provided by the federal government, if I believe in gun rights, etc., then somehow I have missed the message of the gospels.
    For the record, I do realize that much of the politically active “Christian right” are guilty of the same thing in reverse and I oppose that thinking as well.

  • Anneke says:

    Grateful to have been able to read this conversation. Thank you, Scott and Marty.

  • Bob Vander Lugt says:

    My thanks to Steve and Marty for this hopeful conversation, More light than smoke; more grace than judgement. Still, if we can avoid assigning motivations to others–whether the other is a “left-leaning” academic, or a greed-driven capitalist–we might be able to hear each other better. Rarely do I know my own motivations clearly, let alone the motivations of my neighbor, sister, or brother.

  • Tom Ackerman says:

    I found this exchange both interesting and frustrating. As a Christian, an environmental scientist, and a university professor, there are multiple ways I can engage with this column itself and the comments. In the interest of brevity, I am going to stick to two topics

    The first is related to total depravity. There is a lot to be said here about what it that term means and the role of grace and the Spirit in preventing us all from being as evil as we might. But what I want to ask is why the doctrine of total depravity should lead me to think that libertarian political philosophy is somehow the most Christian position? I think I can make a quite strong argument that the sinfulness of humans argues for a strong government that restrains the worst manifestations of greed and exploitation in capitalism. I think we could have much more useful discussions about our differences if we agreed that it is possible for a Christian to support policies calling for a stronger government without having their Christian faith or doctrinal purity called into question. It also requires us to admit that capitalism unchecked by government regulation has the potential to permit exploitation of people and resources. In fact, I would contend that this is the likely outcome and there is plenty of evidence to support that.

    The second is the idea that colleges and universities are predominately one-sided ideologically and, as a result, intellectually dishonest. (I find it hard to place any other interpretation on the last paragraph of the discussion.) This idea is simply wrong and is used as a means to discount expertise and scholarship with which the right-wing community disagrees. I have been a professor and, at times, an administrator at two public universities for more than 20 years. I have led and participated in many search and hiring decisions. Never once has ideology or politics been a consideration. My scientific expertise is in the area of climate and climate change, particularly the physical processes that control climate. I have invested more than 40 years in my discipline. I have also co-taught classes and co-authored articles on ethics and science. The only time that my scientific expertise and integrity are challenged is by members of the right-wing “evangelical” church (and the political platform of the Republican party).These people accuse me of fraud and lying because they do not like our scientific conclusions. So, the question is, why would I (and my colleagues) support the ideological right? We have not abandoned the political right, they have abandoned us.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    Tom – I’ve been advised recently that systemic oppression can be identified entirely by inequality. You resist the idea that colleges are intellectually dishonest (because they are ideologically one-sided), even though the communities they’re in are 50/50 (or in some circles 80/20 the other way). Does the university have any obligation to rectify this disparity (or do you simply deny the imbalance)?

  • Tom Ackerman says:

    Matt, Interesting comment, although I am not quite sure that I understand the first sentence to always be true. I think it depends on how you define inequality. If I look at the racial make-up of a basketball team in the NBA, it clearly has an inequality compared to the community in which it is located. But I would suggest that this is not due to systematic oppression, but represents the result of both talent (aptitude?) and personal effort. If I look back to the 1960’s, the racial make-up of basketball teams was very different and was the result of systematic oppression, which is why the 1966 NCAA championship win of Texas Western over Kentucky is often pointed to as the end of an era of white-only NCAA teams.

    So, do I deny the imbalance of political persuasions within the university community? No, I don’t. Do I think that imbalance is the result of systematic oppression? No, I do not. I am not prepared to argue this position for the entire university due to lack of time and space, but I will make a couple of statements about environmental sciences in general. We hire faculty based, as best we can, on a meritocracy. We evaluate scientific competence and scientific vision. We do not consider political persuasion. And I think this is exactly what we should be doing. At the risk of inflaming the discussion, let me use climate science as an example. If my department wants to hire a climate scientist, we advertise for applicants and we try to hire the best scientist and teacher based on resume and interview. It would be foolish of us to hire someone who denies that human activity can and is changing climate in order to promote some kind of ideological balance in our department because that position is not supported by scientific research. If someone can show a reputable body of scientific work that supports this position, then we would consider hiring that person. (In fact, if I could show via my research that human activity is NOT changing climate, I would be publishing that research as fast as I could in order to gain fame, and maybe even fortune.) As a university department, we are expected to seek and maintain scientific excellence in scholarship and education. We are not expected to seek some sort of ideological balance.

  • Randty Buist says:

    I think this idea of the individual over the group was largely my position until I hit seminary. Grappling with Israel as God’s chosen people, the meaning behind the phrases, ‘the people of God,’ ‘the Body of Christ,’ and how Jesus would tell individuals that they & their household (see Roman Centurian) would be saved, along with the strong emphasis of the disciples to place the church front & center within the story, entirely changed my perspective.

    I would suggest it’s a significant error for people to graduate from any seminary, or Christain college, without having seriously wrestled with such things. Life’s perspective begins to change when we no longer need to decide who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of the kingdom of God.

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