Book Review: "Resisting the Dragon's Beast: What if God's Servant of the Government Behaves Like Satan's Servant?" - Rev. Michael Zarling


This is a book review of Resisting the Dragon's Beast: What if God's Servant of the Government Behaves Like Satan's Servant? by Michael Zarling, a WELS pastor. In it he discusses the beast from the sea from Revelation 13 which is representative of a persecuting government. 

The book starts out with the first chapter entitled "Romans 13," dismissing the obvious elephant in the room by explaining by defining submission as 'yielding to authority' and not 'surrendering to power'. This is made clear in other sections of Scripture - wives submit to husbands, but do not have to suffer abuse, likewise with slaves. One thing that surfaced a few times but was not explicitly addressed, but would improve the book: clearly delineate the difference between authority an power. Someone in (or under) authority has the right to do something. Someone in power has the ability, regardless of right. Zarling appeals to the Augsburg Confession article 16 to defend the idea that there are "lawful" and "unlawful" civil ordinances and discusses situations where there is a conflict between what the government asks and the vocation of a father, employer and citizen where one of the Ten Commandments appears to be being broken in order to keep other Commandments. 

Chapter two discusses Revelations 13. The beast out of the sea is of course an abusive government. Zarling points out clearly on page 34ff that the government uniquely targets Christian values in enforcing transgenderism, promoting Critical Race Theory, gender theory, homosexual marraige, no-fault divorce, racial quotas and financial suppor to unwed mothers. Zarling makes the claim on page 8 that we are complicit in blasphemy if we fail to fight. 

Chapters three and four, "Luther's Warning" and "The Magdeburg Confession" provides a light overview of the development of Lutheran resistance theory, first with the jurists' interpretation of law and then ultimately based on Scripture. The principle of interposition and preemptive resistance is clearly laid out. The development of Lutheran thought is largely skimmed over; I suggest the three-part podcast by the Gottesdienst Crowd featuring Rev. David Ramirez (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Zarling makes an interesting claim on page 57 that not only is "the Magdeburg Confession... not... a second-rate confession" but that, in the Formula of Concord, Article X, the Magdeburg Confession is being defended and that if we affirm FC SD X, we subscribe to the reasoning of the Magdeburg Confession. 

Chapter five "Resistance" offers a comprehensive list of Biblical resistance along with secular and American resistance. He mentions "The War to End all Germans" and the unique attack on Lutherans in Wisconsin via the Bennett Law. A zinger on page 92: "We cannot wait for unbelievers to stand up to the government. They are the ones who are prophesied to worship the government." (Revelations 13:8). He takes Pastors to task from time to time, starting on page 93, citing Luther "Pastors should serve as the club that lays next to the dog," the dog being the government and the club a means of admonition. He reaffirms that there is no separation of church and state in Scripture and using that as an excuse is poor theology. He mentions briefly the American Revolution, this could have been beefed up given his audience is largely American. Dr. Ryan MacPhereson threads the needle showing how the American Revolution fit in the context of Magdeburg and how, indeed, Magdeburg did inform the American Revolution.

Chapter six "Spiritual Warfare" makes the claim that Christians should be on the offensive. The armor of God, after all, includes the Sword of the Spirit. We should be on the offensive against a culture that (page 101)

"[s]oothes the troubled minds of young ladies that can find acceptance - or at least tolerance - by becoming transgender. The culture shouts having compassion for women who are single and pregnant means allowing them to terminate their pregancy. The culture screams that anyone who is not vaccinated and boosted is an uncaring person and should be segregated from society. The culture screeches that there is systemic racism in our nation, laws, and corporations, and the way to solve that is by teaching anti-racism in schools, universities, businesses and institutions." 
Zarling claims that Christians hide behind shallow excuses by referring to such things as so-called "political" topics to assuage their consciences for their silence.  He continues this line of thought in Chapter seven "Christian Quietism" hitting the nail on the head:

"Ofttimes pastors will not talk about homosexuality, transgenderism, CRT, wokeness, abortion (and other topics) because these issues seem political. They are political issues only because we have allowed them to be political. They are first theological issues. Then they are moral and ethical issues. Then they become cultural issues. Finally, they become political issues."
"[W]e cannot be timid in the town square when we speak out against homosexuality, transgenderism, critical race theory, wokeness, abortion, euthanasia, or whatever is influencing our culture... Because Christians have absented themselves from the discussion, the world fills the void." 

The remaining four chapters "The Gift of Reason", "Fear", "Freedom", "Never Give Up" take on a different tone than the first seven which were largely exegesis and wrestling with application. The subsequent chapters are almost an apologetic and reasoning for why people were 'right' to question things during 'Ronatide and telling stories within that context. "The Gift of Reason" is almost an 'I-told-you-so' type chapter, which feels out of place but is probably necessary for the more skeptical reader. It's not that I disagreed but I found myself not engaging as heavily with the remainder of the book. It really felt like a different book. Two notable comments include his comparison of the Judaizers to the mandate-enforcers on page 141 and his chastisement of the clergy on pages 192, 219 and 224. He rebukes pastors for not preaching to the culture and making Christianity "safe." Maybe we aren't more heavily persecuted because the world doesn't see us as a threat. 

There was the use of Matthew 7:1-5 several times throughout, used to reinforce the idea that we are not to judge others. This of course is the Sermon on the Mount illustration of the log and plank - remove the log from your eye, so you can help your brother with his spec, and note that you will be judged in the measure you judge. Zarling seems to use this as a proof text to not judge, but I think that is an incorrect usage. Jesus is speaking against a hypocritical judgement, and humility in our judging. 

Overall - a great book. Rev. Zarling is a rare bird in the WELS who offered early resistance during COVID and also holds the Sacrament in high esteem, offering it weekly at his parish, and not removing the chalice from the laity during COVID. I recommend the book. 

Thank you, Rev. Zarling, for your faithful witness!