Daniel Defense, Assets for Christ, and FPC Pooler
Translating the beliefs page of a church, connected with a firearms company, connected with mass shootings.
A friend of mine reached out to me and asked if I could write about the “Daniel Defense Presbyterians”, so I’m stepping away from my summer camp storytelling to dig into this for him & for you. I hope you find it illuminating.
The Uvalde school shooting took place mere days ago. The shooter in this tragedy, along with the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, used guns manufactured by a company named Daniel Defense. This selfsame company is under criticism right now for its "incendiary" advertising, which most recently featured a toddler holding a rifle with the caption “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6).
Pulling the thread here a little: Daniel Defense’s owners also run Assets for Christ, a 501(c)(3) organization. The stated purpose of this nonprofit is “to advance the cause of Christ by assisting young churches with their facilities” through fundraising and purchase/rental of facilities.
As of this writing, Assets for Christ has one posted client on their website: First Presbyterian Church in Pooler, GA.
Please understand: my stated connections between this church and the Uvalde shooting begin and end with the above factual relationships; it’s up to you to consider any further causal relationship, or how this way of seeing the world may allow people to be able to reconcile their Christian identity with the ownership of a firearm company (and the use of Bible verses to promote it).
So, now that I’ve deftly avoided a lawsuit, let’s go through the Our Beliefs page of FPC Pooler. I am not a theologian, and I haven’t set foot in a church in at least 5 years; what I can provide here are some basic explanations of important Evangelical concepts and a general read on this church’s stated ideology.
To the outsider, most churches’ beliefs pages probably seem pretty similar. The basics are pretty straightforward, right? Jesus, sin, salvation, and so forth. But churches vary widely in terms of both the details of their theology and the social norms surrounding their culture. Oftentimes the “Our Beliefs” page of a church is a bit of an exercise in social signaling and tealeaf reading; certain phrases and terms can represent unwritten rules, denominational gestures, or other subtext.
So, if I were to find myself looking for a new church & considering FPC Pooler, this is how I’d interpret their Our Beliefs page.
The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.
These three terms all require explanation:
Inspired: this means the Bible is essentially written by God through human authors.
Inerrant: this means the Bible is without error (more below).
Infallible: this means the Bible is perfect in is judgement. This and inerrancy work together to establish the Bible as static – society may change, but the Bible does not.
This is a notable opening line because there are degrees to which a church may take a stance regarding these aspects of the Bible. Many core issues are defined by Biblical literalism – for example, Young Earth Creationism relies upon a literal interpretation of Genesis. Biblical literalism and inerrancy also underpin commonly-held black & white stances on other key issues like homosexuality or gender identity.
Churches often take a softer stance here by saying the Bible is inerrant “in its original text” or they might punt on issues like creation vs. evolution entirely by saying things like “the Bible is not a science textbook”. FPC Pooler opening their statement of beliefs with a claim of Biblical inerrancy and infallibility rather than a more friendly message (of, say, Christ’s love or some such) is a conscious choice that carries a lot of doctrinal weight.
Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone.
This is standard Evangelical teaching; you can’t earn your way to Heaven by doing good things, and only those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. We’ll get what most Christians know as the “sola” terms here in a bit; that’s what this phrasing is hinting at.
The Church is to rely upon the ordinary means of grace (the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer) for the building of the kingdom.
Now we’ve reached some fairly denomination-specific terminology. “Ordinary means of grace” is a Reformed term; “sacraments” are essentially special holy practices. The two sacraments in Reformed theology are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
As someone raised in an “evangelical free” church (which is also Evangelical; the “Free” is not a modifier of the word “Evangelical”), we didn’t discuss sacraments with much formality. Many Evangelical churches won’t touch on these directly, as they’re fairly denomination-specific, but will typically have a monthly or weekly Lord’s Supper ceremony intended for participation by believers only. Baptism also varies in formality; for Evangelicals it’s typically just a public demonstration of, but not a requirement for, salvation.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (including the Larger and Shorter Catechism) is the most accurate understanding of what the Scriptures principally teach.
This section of the page links directly to the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church of America, which I happen to anecdotally know is the more fundamentalist branch of Presbyterians. (PCUSA is the more progressive branch; my understanding is these branches are pretty separate from one another).
We believe the Bible is the written word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error in the original manuscripts. The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.
Here’s the softer ‘without error in the original manuscripts’ line that churches often use, but that second paragraph indicates that this church is still going to be pretty strict, especially with the “all matters of faith and practice” qualifier, which just means “everything”. This is not just referring to church-related practices; it’s describing how this church’s teachings, given that they are based on the inspired, infallible Bible, should dictate every aspect of how you live your life.
At this point, I’d call this church is fairly fundamentalist, but that term isn’t as common among Christians as you might think. To call a church “fundamentalist” is generally meant pejoratively, and brings to mind negative stereotypes like strict dress codes, head coverings, and fire-and-brimstone preaching. When I was churchgoing, we’d instead describe a strict church as “legalistic”. To call a church “legalistic” is to say it’s layered on some amount of Extra Rules that aren’t in the Bible; it’s not a strict term, but more of a way of establishing the distance a church’s practices are from your church. For example, your church may have acoustic guitars for praise music, but a church that doesnt’t allow guitars you might judge as “too legalistic”. Conversely, someone going to a church with a full drums-and-lights praise band might consider the lack of drums at your church “too legalistic”.
Anyway, a church is rarely going to self-identify as fundamentalist, and never going to self-identify as legalistic.
We believe that all are sinners and totally unable to save themselves from God’s displeasure, except by His mercy.
The word “totally” is important here – the concept of sinners requiring salvation is standard teaching across denominations, but “totally” is an overt indicator that we’re going to be talking about “total depravity” later, which is a Calvinist concept that we’ll get to shortly.
We believe that salvation is by God alone as He sovereignly chooses those He will save. We believe His choice is based on His grace, not on any human individual merit, or foreseen faith.
At this point it’s clear to me that this is a Calvinist church – the idea that God “chooses those He will save” is a Calvinist concept. Calvinism teaches that God has already chosen who will believe in him and receive salvation.
I know we’re talking through a lot of terms … Calvinism is a system of beliefs, not a denomination, so not all Presbyterians are Calvinist, and vice versa. (You can dive into the history of Calvinism on Wikipedia if you like; I’m just going to touch on what it means in this particular cultural context.)
During my time at a Christian college, we commonly debated Calvinism vs. Arminianism – basically the former’s concept of “predestination” vs. the latter’s concept of “free will”. Personally, the concept of predestination never sat right with me, because I figured it was either a) meaningless, because we’re constrained to time anyway and don’t have any way of knowing who was predestined for what, or b) actively harmful, because it could reinforce an uncaring mindset towards the unsaved.
I had a roomate who was Calvinist; we argued a lot.
We believe that God is gracious and faithful to His people not simply as individuals but as families in successive generations according to His Covenant promises.
This line just strikes me as weird and a little creepy? I can’t remember ever seeing a church refer to generations of believers like this.
We believe that Jesus will return, bodily and visibly, to judge all mankind and to receive His people to Himself.
Not all Christians believe the return of Jesus will take place in this way. Wikipedia's explanation of the Rapture will do a better job than I have here to explain this, but suffice to say there are competing views of how the following events will play out: when Jesus will return to “rapture” believers (take them up into heaven), when he will judge the living and the dead, when or if a “tribulation” (time of suffering) takes place, and when the “millennium” (i.e. 1000 years of Jesus’ reign on earth) will take place.
Evangelicals talk about the end of the world a lot. Growing up, I was taught a premillennialist, pretribulation view of the end times, which is the one that became well-known in popular culture via the Left Behind series: Jesus raptures believers, the earth undergoes a tribulation period in which the Antichrist takes control (basically a “last call” for people to become saved before the world ends), and then Jesus returns to judge mankind, which ends the tribulation and ushers in the New Millennium.
FPC Pooler’s description here – the bodily, visible return of Jesus in order to judge mankind & sweep up his own people – is a “posttribulation” view, in which the tribulation of mankind is currently ongoing, only to cease when Jesus comes back. In this view, the Rapture & Second Coming are the same event. People who ascribe to this view essentially believe suffering & the decline of the earth is not only inevitable but indicative of the imminent return of Jesus and his judgement of mankind, and when Jesus comes back, it’s all over.
This may help you understand why some Christian groups are, to put it mildly, uninvested in solving climate change or other long-term societal ills.
We hold to the historic “Solas” of the church. The following theses are taken from the Cambridge Declaration, the product of a meeting in Cambridge, MA, on April 17-20, 1996.
The following section describes the four “solas”. Many churches use these in some form or another; they vary in formality for a lot of Evangelical churches I’ve attended, typically being used as phrases only, without a lot of theological detail. The Cambridge Declaration, I’ve learned while writing this, notably adds denials to each section, and approaches them with much more formality than I’ve personally experienced elsewhere.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Only)
We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.
We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.
The affirmation section here has a Calvinist signal: “which alone can bind the conscience”. Calvinism holds to a concept of “total depravity” – that is, that every facet of an person’s existence is inherently sinful unless they are saved; that it’s spiritually impossible for an unsaved person to actually access any capital-T Truth. (This always bothered me and struck me as an easy path to dismiss any unsaved person’s insights or perspective.)
The denial section in each of these Solas is notable. Most church websites do not list things they deny; this is a huge signal of fundamentalism to me, and the wording here seems specifically aimed at churches with competing doctrines or looser definitions of spiritual experience.
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.
The affirmation half of this is straightforward to me; I also was taught that you are saved by grace and not by works (e.g. no action you take on this planet, harmful or non, has an impact on your salvation). This binary scenario allows for a lot of existential flexibility – as a kid, I’d hear about famous historical figures that repented on their deathbed and achieved salvation (Darwin comes to mind). At the same time, I also remember being told Obama was a reprobrate (a term meaning that it’d be impossible for him to get into heaven). Different denominations factor in “works” in different ways.
The denial section here is again very Calvinist, especially the line about “unregenerated human nature”; like I said before, this viewpoint holds that unsaved people aren’t just destined for hell – they fundamentally have no access to spiritual truth.
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.
We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.
I want to be clear that, while I’ve seen these four Solas many times, the denials & the specific phrasing here is pointedly more stringent than usual. The line about the legitimacy of a church is an extremely red flag; I have never attended a church that explicitly denied the legitimacy of other churches in their statement of faith.
It’s fairly common for Evangelical churches to punt on the institutional legitimacy of a given denomination or church and instead focus on the salvation decision of an individual (e.g. I grew up being told the Methodists were “too liberal” because they let gay people join and let women preach) but nobody was telling me that Methodist churches were illegitimate, because the salvation decision is generally considered to be personal.
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.
We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.
The denial section here signals to me that this church’s praise band probably doesn’t have a drum set.
Let’s skip ahead a few paragraphs to the “We Are Reformed” section, which outlines some definitions of Reformed followed by:
These distincitives[sic] can be summarized by our glad affirmation of the responsibility of every person to repent and believe, and that it is God who, by His sovereign electing grace, draws men and women, otherwise dead in sin, to faith in His Son.
“Electing” is a key signal here. Predestination, or election, is a Calvinist term; this belief system holds that only those elected by God will be saved. Note that members are still tasked with spreading the Gospel and trying to save people. As previously stated, I’ve personally never really understood the practical implications of this view.
Reformed distinctives include the sovereignty of God in His creation, providence and election of believers apart from any merit of their own; the irresistible grace of God provided for and preceding the faith of the individual; the sufficiency of God’s grace apart from which man is dead in sin and wholly defiled in all his faculties of soul and body; the efficacy of Christ’s death for all those who believe in Him by grace; the safe-guarding of all those for whom Christ died for eternal life.
This section is describing what I learned as the “five points of Calvinism”, helpfully acrosticized as TULIP:
Total depravity: Man is fallen, utterly sinful in all respects, and completely incapable of accessing God’s truth.
Unconditional Election: God only saves whom he elects (predestines).
Limited Atonement: Jesus only died for the elected, not everyone. (There’s typically phrasing around this that attempts to soften the blow a little: that his death is “sufficient” for everyone, but “definite” only for the chosen few.)
Irresistible Grace: God draws you to him, and you inevitably will be saved if he has chosen you.
Perseverance of the Saints: Once saved, you can’t lose your salvation.
Some less-strict churches may practice “four-point Calvinism”, which redefines “limited atonement” a little by saying Jesus did, in fact, die for everyone, while maintaining that only the elect have access to that salvation.
It is important to note that every church has a confession, formal or informal, even though some claim they have “no confession but Christ” or “no creed but the Bible.” Every church summarizes its convictions in some form in order to distinguish its members from those who are not believers or those who do not believe in their church’s distinctives.
This passage within the “we are confessional” section feels notably defensive and is clearly calling out churches that don’t use their Our Beliefs pages to go to equivalently detailed theological lengths.
We are Kingdom centered.
We believe that the Kingdom of God is not only a future hope but is also a present reality. We believe that the ascension of Jesus Christ means that He is presently reigning from Heaven and, therefore, we are called upon to honor and obey Him in every area of our personal lives and to plant the banner of Christ’s Kingdom rule in every area of human endeavor.
This part, given the overall eschatological (end-times theology) context and previous statements denying various aspects common in other churches, is very Dominionist. Dominion theology, in its more extreme forms, is Christian nationalism; it’s the belief in establishing not just Christian principles, but overtly Christian leadership within the state; it’s opposed to separation of church and state.
A “typical” Evangelical church will typically gesture at the kingdom of God, but may do so more gently through reference to the “body of Christ” (the church members), or may reference furthering God’s work here on earth, but will stop short of lines like “[…] to plant the banner of Christ’s Kingdom rule in every area of human endeavor”. A church may instead talk about the earth being (temporarily) the dominion of the enemy, Satan, and focus on furthering the cause of God’s kingdom, rather than the literal establishment of his kingdom.
You are rarely ever going to see a church explicitly use the term Dominionist or Dominion Theology, but overall this paragraph is a more aggressive stance toward applying Christianity to the earth than is typical for an Evangelical church.
There are many aspects of Evangelicalism that are uncomfortable or outright terrifying to state plainly, but here are two key concepts that require it:
Evangelicals believe they are heading to heaven, and if you, reader, have not prayed the prayer of salvation, you are not.
Some churches teach that hell is “eternal conscious torment” (fire and brimstone); others teach “eternal separation from God” – the binary outcome is the same. Churches don’t typically address the details or existence of hell on their beliefs page, not even this one – but let me be clear: unless an Evangelical church explicitly states otherwise, they absolutely believe in hell.
Calvinists additionally believe that you are not capable of accessing this salvation, or indeed any truth, on your own; if you have a hard time getting a Calvinist to listen to you, that is likely why.
Evangelicals who believe in the Rapture believe the world will inevitably get worse until it is judged.
As stated earlier, this is a big reason why climate change doesn’t existentially resonate with many Evangelicals. You might think that this stance is at odds with the “building Christ’s kingdom on earth” mindset, but they actually feed into one another, and reinforce a view of the unsaved, disintegrating outside world as a threat. The world getting worse is actually confirmatory of Biblical prophecy and seen as a sign of the imminent return of Jesus.
My overall reading is that FPC Pooler is a fundamentalist church with a very hard-line definition of of who exactly is heading to heaven, and what exactly Christians are put here on Earth to do.