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Peanut Brittle Day . . . and An Evangelical’s Lament

2006 December 20
by Mike

From my mom’s newspaper column:

Today was peanut brittle-making day at this household. It’s a tradition.

Every year the Runner says, “Well, I guess I’ll make peanut brittle today.” I make a flying trip to the store for all that stuff that is not normally in our cabinets – raw peanuts, corn syrup, coconut (for the one batch with coconut added), margarine (well, I usually have that but not always). Years ago his mother showed him how to make this Christmas treat and I don’t believe in all the years he’s been doing it he has ever had a failure at it.

First, we get out every pan in the kitchen, including all the mixing bowls, measuring cups and measuring spoons.

I used to stay around to offer advice. This is not, you may realize by now, my project. I’d say, “You better get that off of there. It’s going to burn.” “It’s not going to burn,” he’d reply. And it never did.

Or – “The peanuts aren’t done yet.” He’d reply, “They’re done.” And they were.

Who am I to know? I have never made a batch in my life. But I am an aficionado and his greatest fan. He has realized through the years that not only do I not make peanut brittle – I do not clean up the kitchen. That would include – every pan, bowl, measuring spoon and cup in the kitchen, the stove, the sink and the floor. It is a very messy job.

Now, after only 51 years, he has become self-sufficient and cleans it himself. So, this morning, getting back from my second run to the grocery store. (I only got enough corn syrup for four batches and he decided to make five) I asked, “Did you remember this is the ‘off’ year? No one is coming for Christmas. We cannot eat 10 pounds of peanut brittle.”

“If I make it, they will come,” he replied.

And so, he began, cooking the first part of water, syrup and sugar until the hard ball stage, measuring out all the ingredients while it cooked. Then he would add the peanuts and cook them – each batch – to perfection. Quickly he would pour in the margarine, the vanilla and the baking soda, stirring carefully so it wouldn’t spill over – a very big potential mess, as
you might guess. Then into the greased cookie pans.

Each batch was wonderful. I did manage to arrive just in time to give my opinion each time by sampling the brittle. Soon we had pans of the hardened candy all over the kitchen.

Then it was time to get out all the Tupperware bowls we own and begin to fill them, cleaning up each little crumb along the way – by eating it, of course.

Then the first ones came. Two granddaughters arrived. One gave her approval. The other declined to try. She only likes pecan brittle, which is usually the last batch made. He omitted that, bowing to our small crowd this year. (He certainly had plenty of corn syrup, as I made sure on the second run to the grocery store that we didn’t run out. I’ll be making pecan pies all year. I don’t know what else to do with it.)

By the time we put it away, we only had two (very large) covered bowls full. We had certainly done our part to make sure it wasn’t wasted. Even the dog enjoyed it.

In the next few days I’ll package some up to send to the ones who didn’t come. I certainly hope he made enough!

Cheers – for the Runner and his ability to make this wonderful Christmas candy.

Jeers – for my inability to add any wonderful sweet thing to the snack table. I do make a mean crab dip. Nice start for a Christmas Eve repast! (He is sending us two – we’re going to be great-grandparents in 2007!)

– – – –

Someone needed to say it.

And Randall Balmer, a feature writer for Christianity Today, did — in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament.

You won’t agree with everything. (Nor did I. It seems to me that there is much more diversity within Evangelicalism than it sometimes sounds in this book. Think, e.g., about the work of many young Evangelicals for Darfur!) But it is a compelling argument about something that has gone very wrong with much of the Evangelical movement in America.

Here’s a taste from the chapter: “Where Have All the Baptists Gone? Roy’s Rock, Roger Williams, and the First Amendment.”

Some of the things I learned from the radio while traveling the two hundred miles from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to Longview, Texas:

– The intellectual and scientific case for evolution is crumbling.
– Global warming is a myth.
– The flat income tax is a superb idea.
– “Satan wants the United States to be kind to pluralism.”
– The reason we swear an oath on the Bible is because the Bible was the sole foundation of American law.
– The world has an unlimited supply of oil.
– The Constitution provides no guarantee of personal privacy.
– Government fuel-efficiency standards kill people.
– Satan dominates the secular media.

My visit to East Texas came at a strange time. A day earlier, Pat Robertson had issued his fatwa against the president of Venezuela, and I was certain, given their hysteria over terrorism, that my friends on the Religious Right would join me in calling for Robertson’s detention and interrogation on suspicion of making a terrorist threat. (The televangelist is no stranger to making death threats, of course, though in the past he has generally targeted Supreme Court justices, not foreign heads of state.) . . .

But Robertson’s statement elicited nary a comment from what passes for Christian radio in East Texas, although one pundit allowed that the televangelist might try to convert the Venezuelan president before calling for his assassination.

I learned something else in the course of my travels through the triple-digit heat of a Texas summer: There seems to be at least some truth in the oft-quoted statement of Bill Moyers (the pride of Marshall, Texas) that in East Texas there are more Baptists than there are people. I passed First Baptist Church and Second Baptist Church, Long Range Baptist Church, Faith Family Baptist Church, Charity Baptist Church, Timpson Missionary Baptist Church, Appleby Baptist Church, Holly Springs Baptist Church, First Freewill Baptist Church, Zion Hill Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church, Friendship Bobo Baptist Church, Heritage Baptist Church, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, and Grace Baptist Church, which, according to a large sign, featured “Old Fashion Preaching” — to name only a few.

Given all of these churches, given all of these angry voices defending the faith on my car radio, imagine my surprise that evening when I attended a huge Religious Right rally at the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center in Longview and learned that, despite all appearances to the contrary, East Texas is actually in the grip of Satan.

The endorsements are as diverse as Rick Warren and Tony Campolo (though actually, I don’t think this is diverse as I would have five years ago). Campolo says: “Randall Balmer knows Evangelicalism inside and out. He writes with the ambivalence of a jilted lover who still cares very much about the movement but who is broken-hearted . . . .”

33 Responses leave one →
  1. December 20, 2006

    mmmmm Christmas snacks. Yesterday, a sweet lady from church came into my office and gave me a plate of home-made hot cinnamon rolls to take home for me and my family for Christmas. That plate of delicious hot cinnamon rolls never made it home for Christmas.

    “Father forgive me for I have sinned” 🙂

  2. December 20, 2006

    We have two local sources of indulgence for a sweet tooth: McKay’s bakery and Vleta’s candy. Wow.

  3. December 20, 2006

    Funny quote of the year I’ve never heard – “there are more Baptists in East Texas than people”. So true. And, he’s not even counting all the Cowboy churches and odd-named churches (gotta love the Gospel Barn) all over East Texas. And, oddly enough where is the poverty rate, the divorce rate, high school drop-out rate, and lung cancer rate highest in this big state? Yep – good ol’ East Texas.

    Thanks Mike.

  4. Trey permalink
    December 20, 2006

    As an alumnus of that area, I can vouch for his accuracy. And if he thinks the Baptists are bad in that area, he ought to get a load of some of the C/C in that area. It’s enough to give a neo-Catholic the shivers.

  5. don permalink
    December 20, 2006

    What a great writer your mom is! Next time I pass through Neosho, I’ll stop by and see if they have any of the peanut brittle left.

  6. December 20, 2006

    His peanut brittle is excellent. Too bad “Grandma’s” sugar cookies didn’t get any press. Those are worthy of another article.

  7. Lisa permalink
    December 20, 2006

    I am in the midst of Balmer’s book as well. You have inspired me to keep reading, as I have put it down for a while.

  8. December 20, 2006

    Mike, needed to ask you a question and didn’t know how else to do it but to leave a comment on your most recent post (which made my mouth water).

    I have been in deep conversation recently with brothers on both sides of the election and eternal security topic. We’ve been reading and rereading scripture like Romans 9-11, all of Hebrews, Ephesian 1, and John’s gospel. My Arminian viewpoint (I didn’t know I had a label until I enetered into this discussion) has been pillaged and I am left a fencesitter whose head is leaning to Reformed theology but whose heart is still Arminian.

    I have been reading for the last two years and don’t recall you writing about this topic. Do you have any words to share, or references to recommend.


  9. December 20, 2006

    Yum. Peanut brittle. None for me until my braces come off. It’s a sad thing.

    Also sad is the fact that I just spent a big chunk of change on books from Amazon. I’ll have to put this one on my wish list and try to be patient. 🙂

  10. December 20, 2006

    Darn, can’t eat the peanut brittle. Just got a temporary crown. Sounds great, though.

    I haven’t read Balmer’s book. But the problem is, Evangelicalism no longer has much of an intellectual middle class. The first editors of “Christianity Today” magazine expected readers to know about Barth, Bultmann, and Brunner (where they were right and where they weren’t), the two-source solution to the Synoptic Problem, and all about the Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch and why it was wrong.

    And it wasn’t merely academic or some sort of Bibliolatry (most of the time). It was about establishing a certain word for a successful mission. And it worked.

    Fifty years later, Mark Noll has written about the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (there ain’t one) AND about the growing number of first-rate evangelical scholars. No middle class, which is where all of the quasi folk religion is coming from. Parents, elders, preachers, teachers, it’s up to us to raise the standard and help the church to be the intellectual sub-culture it must be.

  11. December 20, 2006

    I’m sure you would like Mike to give you an answer, but I would just like to comment that Calvinism and Arminianism are not your only choices here. Universalism solves the crisis of free will in a nice way. To compare and contrast Calvinism, Arminianism, and Universalism, the theologian Thomas Talbott asks us to consider three theological propositions:

    1. God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.

    2. Because no one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires.

    3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever.

    Each of these propositions have firm biblical support. Interestingly, however, you can’t hold to all three an retain logical consistency. One of the three propositions has to be rejected.

    Calvinists tend to accept propositions #2 and #3, and, thus, reject #1. That is, Calvinists believe that God does not love all people universally; His Election selects only a subset of the human population.

    By contrast, Arminians tend to accept propositions #1 and #3, and, thus, they reject #2. That is, God’s redemptive plans can be thwarted as some humans exercise their free will in rebellion against God.

    Talbott notes that, either way, there is a restriction. Calvinists restrict God’s love (only a few will be elected) while Arminians restrict God’s Ultimate victory (God will fail to reach and save most of the people who have walked the earth).

    In contrast to these two positions, universalists embrace both propositions #1 and #2, and, thus, reject #3.

    Finally, regarding Romans, both Origen (ca. 185-254) and Gregory of Nysaa (ca. 335-395) read the text you are struggling with as supportive of universalism.

  12. December 20, 2006

    Frank, my sense is that, other than our common town of residence, we might find some common ground over a cup of [ ] or a bowl of [ ], if for no other reason than our overlapping prog-rock tastes in music. And I share your disappointment in the disappearance of the intellectual middle class in evangelical-ism. Problem is, I’m sequestered in an independent Christian church suffering a really bad case of megachurch-wannabeism, and you’re over there in the CoC – apparently happy as a clam – where I would be miserable, having left the CoC about a baker’s dozen years ago. But I think we might get along anyway. 😉 Holler at after mid-January if you could spare an hour or so at Roaster’s…I’ll have my ears on. qb

  13. Curtis Baker permalink
    December 20, 2006

    I enjoyed reading that article by your mom. It brought a lot of memories to mind of good times at your mom’s house growing up. With Christmas time bringing up nostalgic memories of home, family, and youth, I always think of your mom. I remember many youth events at your parents house, swimming in the pool and having dinner and devos. The thing I remember most about your mom though is how she taught me to lead singing. When I was 10 or 11 I would go to her house almost every week and we would sit on the couch downstairs and sing together. She taught me the hand movements for the different times, taught me how to pitch a song, and most importantly, taught me to practice every time before I lead singing. To this day I still practice every time I lead singing or preach, remembering how she taught me to always be as prepared as I could be. Your mom is a wonderful woman. I don’t get to see her much any more, but I always look forward to hugging her neck when I am in Neosho. If you talk to her soon remind her how well I think of her. God bless.

  14. December 20, 2006

    Gobs of Peanut Brittle and the multi-named, muchly-divided Baptist church? Mike, open the windows the next time you do a lot of spray painting!

  15. December 20, 2006


    I’ve been leaning towards universalism for about a year now. I just wanted to say that is a very succinct well reasoned argument. Studying calvinism is actually what brough me over to the universalist camp. I’ve never heard those three propositions worded that way, but the ideas of Calvinism disproved enough of Armineanism that I was stuck. I didn’t believe God would send people to hell without having a chance, and I couldn’t believe God could fail, so Universalism became my topic of study.

    Are you a universalist? do they allow that at ACU?

  16. December 20, 2006

    alright, my hometown of longview has been given some props for its overage of baptist churches. well done balmer.

    richard cizik was on Fresh Air last night. he is a green evangelical working with the National Association of Evangelicals. interesting interview.

  17. December 20, 2006

    I do subscribe to universalism. My blog has posts at to the Why?

    I came to universalism via my study of C.S. Lewis and through Lewis to the writings of George MacDonald (reading MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons in college was the defining moment of my spiritual journey).

    Regarding ACU and the COC, the COC is defined by its ecclesiology rather than its eschatology or soteriology (if it even has either of those).

  18. December 20, 2006

    Writings like Balmer’s make me want to bang my head against the wall. I am convinced that many Christians are just as spiritually correct as others are politically correct.

    Creation is six literal 24 hour days, no more, no less.
    Any attempt to teach evolution is of Satan.
    Public schools are of the devil.
    Something is wrong with you if you don’t homeschool. (I was actually asked by a homeschooler, why she should have to pay taxes for my refusal to take responsibility for my son’s education.)
    America is God’s nation and the reason so many horrible things are happening is because of the sins we have committed.
    Always vote for the candidate that opposes abortion, no matter what else they support or don’t support.

    And I can think of a few more . . .

  19. December 20, 2006

    You gotta love family traditions like that! Merry Christmas to all the Copes!!!

  20. December 20, 2006

    I love your mom! Where do I get some candy????

    As to Evangelicals and the rest of us, we’d all be better disciples and kingdom subjects if we could just get over our religion and our focus on being religious.

  21. juditko permalink
    December 20, 2006

    Campolo says: “Randall Balmer knows Evangelicalism inside and out. He writes with the ambivalence of a jilted lover who still cares very much about the movement but who is broken-hearted . . . .”

    Only Tony Campolo can say that like that! 🙂

  22. December 20, 2006

    Some of my warmest memories were in Montgomery, Alabama “pulling candy” (peanut brittle) with my Grandma!

  23. December 20, 2006

    On the election / free will discussion… The age old paradox comes to mind: Can God make a stone so large that He cannot move it? More generally, can God prevent Himself from being able to do something? And why would He want to do that, if he could? There actually might be a reason.

    I think Richard put it nicely. We tend to look at truths in isolation, sequentially. When we get to the last one in the sequence (whatever sequence we chose), it doesn’t fit into our understanding based on how we understood the previous truths. So we take liberties with the last one. Thus we become either Arminians or Calvinists (or Universalists).

    Note we could add a fourth point to the three Richard listed: Not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 7:21-23 suffices for a simple summary.) So the Universalists are in the same boat.

    All the “truths” are completey, 100% true. Our understanding of them is fallible, and is inherently limited by our human vantage point. We just cannot see the big picture, no matter how hard we try. It is hopeless for us to understand completely. And we would be better off to admit that, and not to spend all our time quarrelling about whose incomplete understanding is better. At least that is my opinion.

  24. Donald permalink
    December 20, 2006

    Ouch, my brain is hurting reading today’s posts. Except for the Mike’s mom’s column–that’s got my stomach growling for my brother’s peanut brittle. Hurry up January 6th family Christmas!

  25. Lisa permalink
    December 20, 2006

    Y’all can have all your “isms” and your “ologys” and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine. None of them will reach the faith of the greatest theologian I’ve ever read: the blind man in John 9.

    “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see.”

  26. rojay permalink
    December 21, 2006

    Lisa- Amen! Unfortunately the addictive pleasures of mental masturbation are powerfull and seductive.

  27. December 21, 2006

    Lisa and rojay,
    Although I appreciate the sentiment, your comments are somewhat ironic given the content of Mike’s post on Balmer’s book.

  28. December 21, 2006

    Back to the peanut brittle…your mom’s (or shall I say dad’s) kitchen sounds about as sticky and messy as mine today! Hey, I’ll trade them my homemade pecan turtle recipe for the peanut brittle one. I’ve never made that before!

  29. December 21, 2006

    Someone mentioned the verse “not all will enter the kingdom of heaven” in the context of universalism, saying that they don’t agree.

    If you think that Kingdom of Heaven is only a post mortem experience, then I guess you would be correct, but many here (and across the world) realize that the Kingdom of Heaven is almost and not yet. Its among us right now. We are the inbreaking. Some people choose not to be a part of it. And many of them call themselves Christians. They are sitting around waiting for God to smite all the “sinners” when they themselves ignore the message of Jesus. They didn’t have sex til marriage and they don’t steal kill or do drugs, but they make a habit of neglecting the poor and becoming slaves to consumerism. Hmmm.

  30. December 21, 2006

    The conservative paranoia politics of much of mainstream evangelicalism has disturbed me for years. As though coercion (force in the form of laws) would bring about a Christian society. This can only come about by individuals accepting the Gospel.

    But then, it’s easier to lobby congress than love your neighbor.

    As for the Arminian/Calvinism thread in these comments, I’d like to suggest Gareth Reese’s commentary on Romans, available through the Central Christian College of the Bible bookstore in Moberly, Missouri. Mrs. Reese will probably take your call and will be glad to help you. If I remember right, the price is a bit hefty, but your Calvinist inclinations will be detonated.

    As for universalism, See Thomas Talbott’s work on the topic.

  31. December 26, 2006

    I suspect your dad’s peanut brittle and my mom’s were pretty much the same being from the same family. She used to make it every christmas as well. I alwalys liked the brittle more than the peanuts. Sometimes the peices around the edge would have less and I always went after those. I never heard of pecan brittle but know I would love it. Maybe I’ll buy a candy thermometer and try to make some.

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