Jim Wallis on the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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John Kasich was invited, but did not attend.  Mark Noll was there.  So was Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and one of the primary architects of the evangelical left.

In his most recent piece at the Sojourners website, Wallis sees some continuity between the issues addressed at the Wheaton consultation and the issues addressed at some of the earliest gatherings of the so-called “evangelical left.”  He does not see progress.

A taste:

That was 45 years ago. Reading it again at the Wheaton meeting was heartbreaking — realizing how far in the wrong direction “evangelicalism” has now gone, so diminished and distorted. In my tradition, we would call that spiritual “backsliding.” Read the declaration now — all of it — and see how much we have gone backwards.

Also take a look at the list of signers back in 1973. We were “young evangelicals,” including black evangelicals, the first evangelical feminists, some global evangelical leaders, but also some of the leading establishment white evangelical leaders at the time — including some who were invoked at the Wheaton meeting last week, like the founding editor of Christianity Today Carl F. H. Henry. As the final editor of the Chicago Declaration, I can attest that Henry and I we went back and forth on every “jot and title” as those who knew him would expect! This was a multiracial and intergenerational statement unanimously agreed to after two days of retreat together. We all felt it was work that God had done.

At the time, the “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern” gained great attention in the evangelical world, schools, and seminaries, and it was a big news story. And until 1980, we were called the “young evangelicals” in a “new evangelical” movement.

So what happened?

Read the entire piece here.  Then go get some historical context by reading two books:

Brantley Gasaway, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice and David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.

Scot McKnight Comments on the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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In a blog post at Jesus Creed, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight responds to Katelyn Beaty’s recent piece at The New Yorker on last week’s gathering of evangelical leaders in Wheaton.  McKnight writes:

When I was hearing about the conference at Wheaton on evangelicalism and Trump, I was hopeful somehow a statement would come out. What came out was a clear lack of (1) leadership and (2) of a coherent theory of political engagement that is unafraid of political alliance.

Katelyn Beaty Weighs-In on the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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Beaty is a writer and the former managing editor of Christianity Today.  She attended the consultation (get up to speed here) and published a few tweets before she was asked to stop.  Beaty’s piece confirms the CBN report that two members of the consultation left because they believed the meeting was too anti-Trump.  (If I read Beaty correctly, it is more accurate to say that they did not come back for the second day.  The CBN report made it sound like they stormed-out of the room in protest).  Beaty also confirms that John Kasich was invited, but did not attend the consultation.

In the end, Beaty did not leave Wheaton with a very good feeling about the meeting.  She describes a meeting that lacked focus and any real sense of unity.  Her take on the generational divide among the participants is telling about the state of American evangelicalism.

Here is a taste of her recap, published at The New Yorker:

In early correspondence to participants, Birdsall wrote that part of the summit would be devoted to crafting a “pastoral letter,” a statement, to speak for Christians dismayed by the growing alignment with Trump. The goal was to disentangle the word “evangelical” from its current attachment with far-right partisan politics and re-center it on Christ and the church. The statement was originally slated to be released before June, in advance of a meeting between a thousand evangelical leaders and President Trump. But, days before we arrived at Wheaton, Birdsall clarified to attendees that our gathering was not meant to be held in opposition to the June meeting. He pointed out that he had planned the event long before the one with Trump became public. Organizers seemed to be getting nervous that their efforts would be seen as partisan and anti-Trump. After two days of often tense conversations, it became clear that no statement would be released at all.

Read the entire piece here.

Just for the Record: I Did Not Organize the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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Someone just sent me this blog post.

Here is the pertinent part:

As for what happened at Wheaton College where the pro-Trump evangelicals walked out, that event was organized by John Fea, who chairs the History Department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, in central Pennsylvania. Last year he wrote about how Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity – where he talked about “court evangelicals” who “like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seek influence.”

Read the entire post here.  I was not there.  I wasn’t invited.  I had nothing to do with it.

But I did write about it.

Evangelical = “One who believes the Good News about Jesus Christ”

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Herbert Chilstrom

This definition of evangelicalism does not come from David Bebbington, but from Herbert Chilstrom, the first presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As Chris Gehrz shows us in his recent piece at The Anxious Bench, the word “evangelical” has a long history:

Chilstrom’s spiritual forebears ultimately seized the term not only from their “Romish” antagonists, but from other Protestants. “The newly self-identified Lutherans,” writes Diarmaid MacCulloch of late 16th century Germany, “took over the once-general Protestant label ‘Evangelical’ to describe their Churches, just as the non-Lutherans were monopolizing the name ‘Reformed.’”

It was such Lutheran churches that Philipp Spener hoped to reform in 1675, when he lamented the spiritual deadness of “our Evangelical church, which according to its outward confession embraces the precious and pure gospel, brought clearly to light once again during the previous century through that blessed instrument of God, Dr. Luther, and in which alone we must therefore recognize that the true church is visible…”

This leads Gehrz to wonder whether American evangelicals have “kidnapped” the term:

In a sense, Chilstrom is absolutely right. Even many of those participating in last week’s “evangelical consultation” at Wheaton College — the “evangelical Harvard” — fear that their cherished word has been taken over by a particularly noxious political movement. “When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical,” complained convener Doug Birdsall of the Lausanne Movement, “people don’t say evangelism or the gospel. There’s a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical.” What Fuller Seminary president Mark Labberton calls the “crisis of evangelicalism” has been “caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake.”

And yet… even if Birdsall and Labberton could somehow bring evangelicals back to the Evangel in such a way that they renounce the culture warring of the Religious Right, wouldn’t Chilstrom still feel like his term had been kidnapped? Wouldn’t any leader of an avowedly “Evangelical” mainline church want to contest the notion that other Protestants — but not him — have a high view of Scripture, recognize the centrality of the Cross, seek conversion, and practice evangelism and social action?

Read his entire piece here.

The “Non-Court Evangelicals”

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Here is a taste of Nancy LeTourneau’s Washington Monthly piece: “The Status Anxiety of White Evangelicals“:

The question becomes: how much of this is about Christianity and how much is about whiteness?

It is important to note that not all white evangelicals are reacting to change this way. A group that John Fea calls “non-court evangelicals” met last week in Illinois to discuss the future of evangelicalism. One of the speakers was Dr. Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary (disclosure: where I earned my master’s degree). His speech resonated with a theology that takes an entirely different view than the one we hear so often from the likes of Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell, Jr. He acknowledged that evangelicals are at a moment of crisis, but it is historical, not recent.

Read the rest here.

Wheaton Consultation Organizer Says Meeting Was Not Anti-Trump

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Last week the Christian Broadcasting Network reported that several people walked out of a meeting of evangelical leaders at Wheaton College because of its “crazy Trump-bashing.”

One of the organizers of the meeting, Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), rejects CBN’s report.  Here is a taste of a recent piece at The Christian Post:

While Bock detests the notion that the meeting was an “anti-Trump” conference, some speakers and presenters at the conference expressed their dismay with the president and with today’s American evangelicalism.

Journalist Katelyn Beaty, who live-tweeted the first day of the conference, quoted Alexander as saying: “How could white Christians mourn the deaths of the Charleston Nine but politically support a presidential candidate who appeals to the ideology held by the Charleston murderer?”

According to Beaty, Chicago pastor Charlie Dates stated during the meeting that “American evangelicalism has not been able to separate itself from the perks of white supremacy.”

“We are discussing all that from a variety of angles,” Bock said when asked about the tweets. “What tweets are snapshots. A quote by itself without a context doesn’t actually help you understand what is going into that remark and that concern. You are getting small snippets of the whole thing into which not only were the points made, the points were responded to.”

“I think what the meeting shows is that there are still a whole array of conversations with people in the group and some with people outside of the group and not necessarily represented in the group that we very much want to have and seek to pursue,” he added.

Read the entire piece here.

Cal Thomas Rips the Court Evangelicals

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Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist and a veteran of the Moral Majority.  After he left the Moral Majority he co-wrote a book describing his experience with Jerry Falwell Sr.’s organization.  It is titled Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America(I wrote about Thomas and his co-author Ed Dobson in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

Thomas supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election.  Yet he cannot seem to stomach the court evangelicals‘ criticism of other evangelicals, particularly those who met at Wheaton College last week.  Here is a taste of his most recent column:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

The verse refers to money, but in light of today’s debate about the unaccountable devotion many Christian leaders have for President Trump it is not a stretch to apply it to their relationship with him.

Last week at Wheaton College in Illinois a number of Christian pastors and leaders gathered to discuss the future of “evangelicalism” in the Trump era. Some who were not there claimed it was a forum for Trump-bashing, some who were in attendance disagreed.

There is a conceit among some conservative Christians that God is only at work when a person they voted for is elected and that the rest of the time He must be attending to other countries. “God showed up,” said Franklin Graham following Trump’s election. Scripture states that all authority comes from God and that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants.” (Proverbs 21:1)

That means that God also must have “shown up” when Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and every other president was elected. The Almighty does, in fact, have a different agenda than us earthlings and sometimes He puts up leaders to judge people for their wicked behavior.

Read the rest here.

The President of Fuller Seminary’s Speech at the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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As many of you now know, evangelical leaders of the non-court evangelical variety met at Wheaton College earlier this week to discuss the future of evangelicalism.  See our coverage here.

One of the evangelical leaders in attendance at the meeting was Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a flagship evangelical institution in Pasadena, California.  On Fuller’s historic role as a vanguard of the 20th-century evangelical movement I strongly recommend George Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminar and the New Evangelicalism.

Labberton has spent most of his career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but as president of Fuller (replacing evangelical icon Richard Mouw) he has become a prominent anti-Trump evangelical.  He is the editor of Still Evangelical: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning.

Labberton spoke at the Wheaton gathering.  Here is a taste of what he said:

This is not a recent crisis but a historic one.  We face a haunting specter with a shadow that reaches back further than the 2016 election—a history that helps define the depth of the sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, and injustice around us. Today’s egregious collusion between evangelicals and worldly power is problematic enough: more painful and revealing is that such collusion has been our historic habit. Today’s collusion bears astonishing—and tragic—continuity with the past.

Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves.  We are not naïve in our doctrine of sin that prefers self over all, but we have failed to recognize our own guilt in it.

Our professed trust in Jesus has not led evangelicals to die to ourselves, but often to justify our own self-assertion—even when that means complicity in the suffering and death of others. The scandal associated today with the evangelical gospel is not the scandal of the Cross of Christ, crucified for the salvation of the world.  Rather it is the scandal of our own arrogance, unconfessed before the Cross, revealing a hypocritical superiority that we dare to associate with the God who died to save the weak and the lost.

In order to be concrete about this, let me choose what I believe to be the top four arenas in which this violation of spiritual and moral character has shown itself:

Read the rest here.

I am glad that Labberton sees this as a historical problem.  I assume this is why Mark Noll was at the Wheaton consultation.

CBN Reports That “Several Christian Leaders” Walked Out of the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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Rumor has it that those who left the meeting made their way to this Wheaton, IL establishment (just kidding)

Here is a taste of Jenna Browder and David Brody’s report:

WASHINGTON – CBN News has confirmed that at least a few people walked out of an intense invite-only evangelical meeting this week at Wheaton College after the affair turned into “crazy Trump bashing.”  

The two-day gathering involved a group of faith leaders and was billed as a discussion of the evangelical movement in light of Trump’s presidency. But it became more than that.

Two sources with intimate knowledge of the meeting say the first day turned into a lot of “one-sided venting” against President Trump and the majority of evangelicals who voted for him.

Both sources confirm that the issue of sin came up in discussing how evangelicals could vote for Trump. “The conversations were difficult,” according to one source who attended both days of the meeting. “There was a lament.”

After that first day, a few people felt so uncomfortable with the rhetoric against Trump they left, forgoing the last day of the conference.

It’s important to note that no members of President Trump’s faith advisory group were present or ever officially invited.  

If this report is accurate, some of the leaders at Wheaton discussed whether or not voting for Trump might be considered a sinful act.  Frankly, I am glad this topic was discussed.

Read the entire article here.

Watch Out For the Evangelical “Marxist Brain Trust” Who Gathered at Wheaton College This Week!

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Wheaton College apparently hosted the “Marxist Brain Trust” this week

I have never heard of the blog Pulpit & Pen, but apparently they spent a lot of time offering readers “theology,” “polemics,” and “discernment.”  The website is run by a Southern Baptist pastor in Montana named JD Hall.  You can read more abou this website here.  It should also be noted that Hall is not new to controversy.

Apparently Pastor Hall was not very happy about the evangelical leaders who met at Wheaton College earlier this week to discuss evangelicalism in the age of Trump.  (He is not the only one).  Check out his April 17 post at Pulpit & Pen titled “Marxist Brain Trust Gathers at Wheaton to Discuss Moving Evangelicals Left.” (Thanks to David Swartz for bringing this to my attention).

A taste:

In the meantime, these same evangelical “thought leaders” – aka the Evangelical Intelligentsia (EI) – have gathered at Wheaton College to discuss how to shift evangelicals away from supporting conservative politics in the name of “saving evangelicalism.” Yesterday and today – April 16 and April 17, 2018 – these leaders are in a closed-door meeting that, according to the Washington Post, was organized by avowed Marxist and Gospel Coalition co-founder, Tim Keller. Approximately 50 such leaders from the EI are discussing the best ways to shift evangelicals away from supporting conservatism, and they include Keller, Ed Stetzer, A.R. Bernard (the pastor who very publicly resigned from Trump’s faith advisory panel over Trump’s lack of political correctness following the Charlottesville race riot), Doug Birdsall (an honorary chair of the rabidly globalist and pro-Roman Catholic Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, which you can read about in E.S. William’s book, here), Jenny Yang of World Relief (which signed a public statement condemning President Trump over his enforcement of U.S. immigration law regarding the “Dreamers”) Bishop Claude Alexander (who signed a letter from evangelicals condemning Trump, using the ideology of Critical Race Theory to do so), Mark Labberton of Fuller Seminary (who wrote a book, Still Evangelical?, which is a collection of essays encouraging evangelicals to abandon their title for the sake of not alienating the political left), Jo Anne Lyon of the Wesleyan Church (who is a part of Evangelicals for Social Action, along with other progressives like Rachel Held Evans), and Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Association (who, as you would expect, has written articles in places like the New York Times encouraging evangelicals to go politically left if they desire to coalesce with Hispanic believers).

Read the entire piece here.  I am not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Was John Kasich at the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism?

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If you are not familiar with what I am calling “the Wheaton consultation on evangelicalism” get up to speed here.

According to The Wheaton Record, Ohio governor and 2016 GOP presidential candidate John Kasich was present for these conversations about evangelicalism in the age of Trump.

Here is a taste of Giselle Gaytan’s reporting:

The meetings took place Monday afternoon until evening and Tuesday morning in the Wilson Suite on the fourth floor of the Billy Graham Center, and many of the people in attendance were the leaders Keller spoke about.

According to the program, the attendees included Governor of Ohio John Kasich, author and pastor John Ortberg, pastor Charlie E. Dates, historian and professor Mark Noll and editor and writer Katelyn Beaty. The sessions opened with “Framing the Issue Before Us: ‘Still Evangelical?’” Eight different “issue groups” were discussed in session four, including “‘Islam, Public Virtue — Beyond Abortion and LGBTQ’ and ‘Who Leads? Partisan Media or Pastors?’”

Chaplain Timothy Blackmon told the Record that evangelicals in attendance included leaders from National Latino Evangelical Association, Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and Christianity Today. Presidents of CCCU schools, pastors, authors, denominational leaders and public theologians also attended, coming from a diverse range of nations such as Croatia, Slovenia, Malaysia, China and Brazil.

Read the entire article here.

 

“Red Evangelicals” and “Blue Evangelicals”

Evangelicals met at Wheaton College this week to talk about the future of evangelicalism in the age of Trump.  We have written about this here and here.  The meeting took place behind closed doors, but we are starting to learn a bit about more thanks to participant Katelyn Beaty‘s twitter account:

Some quick observations based on Beaty’s tweets:

  1.  I am glad to see that Mark Noll is there.  This is a historical problem.
  2. A major realignment of American evangelicalism seems more realistic than ever.
  3. From the tweets, it does not appear that this meeting is about trying to reconcile with the court evangelicals.  It appears that this group is critiquing court evangelicalism and the 81% and trying to move in another direction.

Court Evangelicals: How Dare These Other Evangelical Leaders “Steal the Microphone” From Us!

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Wheaton College

CBN News is reporting that some of the court evangelicals are not particularly happy that evangelicals leaders who do not frequent the court of Donald Trump met at Wheaton College this week.

Here is a taste of Jenna Browder’s piece:

Those at the meeting held at Wheaton College indicated they wanted to make sure political allegiances to Trump don’t get in the way of the gospel message but it didn’t sit well with some evangelicals who support Trump’s policy initiatives.

Johnnie Moore, an unofficial spokesman for the Faith Advisory Council, was among the many pro-Trump evangelicals not invited.

“We don’t take it personally; we just pray for them,” Moore said in a statement to CBN News. “I’ve said it many, many times, but I’ll say it again: we have been honored to fight to protect religious liberty that even extends to protecting the rights of those who disagree with us on religious grounds, even when they are unkind.”

Robert Jeffress is another advisor not included.  

Richard Land also questioned the weight of the meeting given the absence of some well-known names. 

“Any definition of ‘thought leaders’ and any definition of evangelicalism that excludes the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Franklin Graham is a pale imitation – anemic and incomplete,” said Land. 

Other members of Trump’s Faith Advisory Council spoke to CBN News off the record, one voicing his concern over what he sees as this group of evangelicals trying to steal the microphone from those who support Trump. He pointed to the fact that many invited to participate are part of the anti-Trump movement and hold more progressive views on public policy than traditional evangelical Christian voters who supported Trump in 2016.

“It’s a meeting that will have very little impact on evangelicalism as a whole,” Jeffress told CBN News. “Many of them are sincere but they are having a hard time understanding that they have little impact on evangelicalism.”

Read the entire piece here.  The response of the court evangelicals speaks volumes.  They seem legitimately bothered that this other meeting has taken place.

As I wrote in The Washington Post on July 17, 2017: “The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments.”

What Do You Get When You Google “Evangelicals”

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Wheaton College

“When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump.”

This is what Doug Birdsall, the honorary chair of the evangelical Lausanne Movement, recently told Washington Post reported Sarah Pulliam Bailey.  (Birdsall also had a very brief stint as CEO of the American Bible Society.  I chronicled it here).

Is Birsdall correct?  Yes.  Earlier today I typed the word “evangelicals” into Google and these were some of the top hits:

Christian Host: Evangelicals Back Trump Because His Oval Office is Scandal-Free 

For many, Christianity and Trumpism are synonymous.  These evangelicals are pushing back

President Trump gets a Stormy Daniels bump with evangelicals

Evangelicals are planning a high-profile meeting with Trump

An Anti-Trumper Evangelical Weighs in on Trump’s True Believers

Evangelicals and Trump

A group of evangelical anti-Trumpers is planning to meet at Wheaton College next week to address this issue.  Maybe I should get Eerdmans to send all of them an Advanced Readers Copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. 🙂

Those attending are Tim Keller, A.R. Bernard (former court evangelical), Birdsall, Darrell Bock, Jenny Yang, Mark Labberton, Ed Stetzer, Jo Anne Lyon, Harold Smith, and Gabriel Salguero.

Here is a taste of Pulliam-Bailey’s piece:

About 50 top leaders of major evangelical institutions will attend an invitation-only gathering next week to discuss the future and the “soul” of evangelicalism at a time when many of them are concerned their faith group has become tainted by its association with divisive politics under President Trump.

The diverse group, which includes nationally known pastors such as Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard, is expected to include leaders of major ministries, denominations, colleges and seminaries. The gathering will take place at Wheaton College, an evangelical college outside of Chicago, according to organizer Doug Birdsall, honorary chair of Lausanne, an international movement of evangelicals.

The gathering, which has been in the works for several months and was discussed at evangelist Billy Graham’s funeral last month, will take place before the expected meeting of a separate group of evangelicals who advise, defend and praise Trump. Those leaders, which include members of Trump’s informal advisory council, are considering convening at Trump International Hotel in Washington in June.

Read the rest here.  Let’s remember that not all “evangelical leaders” are court evangelicals.