“An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump”

 

 

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support TrumpSome of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”
• “[Hitler], the most German man, is also the most faithful, a believing Christian. We know that he begins and ends the course of his day with prayer, that he has found in the Gospel the deepest source of his strength.”
• “If the German who truly believed in Jesus could find the Spirit of the kingdom of God anywhere, he could find it in Adolf Hitler’s movement.”
• “In the pitch-black night of Christian church history, Hitler became like a wonderful transparency for our time, a window through which light fell upon the history of Christianity.”
• “[God has granted us an] hour of grace . . . through Adolf Hitler.”
• “God has once again raised his voice in a singular individual.”13 Compare these statements with those made in recent months by American charismatic and evangelical leaders:
• “God raised up . . . Donald Trump” (Michelle Bachman).
• “God has righteously chosen [Trump] to affect the way that this nation goes forward” (Chuck Pierce).
• “Donald Trump represents a supernatural answer to prayer” (James Robison).
• “God had raised up [Trump] for such a time as this” (Stephen Strang).
• “Donald Trump actively seeks God’s guidance in his life” (James Dobson).
• Trump’s victory “showed clear evidence of ‘the hand of God’ on the election” (Franklin Graham).
• “[Trump is] a bold man, a strong man, and an obedient man” (Kenneth Copeland).
• “I see this as a last-minute reprieve for America, and the Church” (Rodney Howard-Browne).
• “[Trump] does look like he’s the last hope” (Phyllis Schlafly).
• “God was raising up Donald Trump as He did the Persian king Cyrus the Great” (Lance Wallnau).
• “[Trump is] a man of faith . . . truly committed to making America great again through principles that honor God rather than defy Him” (Stephen Strang).
• “In the midst of . . . despair, came November the 8th, 2016. It was on that day . . . that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were gonna choose the next president of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (Robert Jeffress).
• “We thank God every day that He gave us a leader like President Trump” (Robert Jeffress).14

How is Trump able to convince these Christian leaders that he is worthy of their support? Mostly by paying attention to them, inviting them to Trump Tower, and indulging their need to be listened to in an increasingly post-Christian culture. It is truly remarkable that they have been taken in by Trump’s vague and barely comprehensible statements about his “faith,” such as “I’ve always been spiritual,” “belief is very important,” and “I’m going to do a great job for religion.” Honestly, Hitler was better at pretending to be a Christian.

Read the entire letter here.

A Glimpse of the American Society of Church History Book Exhibit

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association (and related organizations) in New York City.  Enjoy his latest post.  –JF

Here’s a sample of what’s on the ASCH bookstands. The volume the religious imagination of Stephen King—appropriately placed next to a book on witchcraft—looks particularly intriguing.

Bookstand 1

I’m looking forward to reading John Wolffe’s Sacred and Secular Martydom in Britain Since 1914. It offers chapters on the World Wars, the Falklands Conflict and Irish Nationalism.

Bookstand 2

A collection of books on American religious pasts and futures from Eerdmans:

Bookstand 3

I’m hoping to read this volume by Amy Collier Artman on Kathryn Kuhlman, who has always appeared to me a very enigmatic figure. A good sampling of some of the recent interest in political spiritual biography too, including FDR and Robert E. Lee.

Bookstand 4

I’m also looking forward to reading this book that has been crafted on the religious significance of Hobby Lobby, a useful counterpart to Bethany Moreton’s book a few years ago on the spiritual significance of Walmart.

Bookstand 5

*Believe Me* Gets a Starred Review from *Publishers Weekly*

Believe Me Banner

I am pleased to see this.  I hope my publicist won’t mind me quoting part of her e-mail to me, sent last night at 10:52.  (That is one committed publicist!  Thanks, Rachel!).  She writes: “Below you will find a starred review (starred reviews are KIND OF A BIG DEAL) from Publishers Weekly for Believe Me.”

Here is the review:

Fea (Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?), professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., unpacks the historical roots of Trump’s support among evangelical Christians in this clear, concise, and convincing work. A self-identified evangelical who was appalled by the 2016 election, Fea attempts to explain the overwhelming evangelical support for a president who seems antithetical to traditional Christian values. Fea uses his training as a historian to trace a chronology of the evangelical attraction to political power and locates three historical appeals to evangelicals that Trump exploits: fear of perceived threats (both foreign and domestic), desired access to political power, and nostalgia for a perceived American golden age. Fea looks for connections between Trump’s nostalgic rhetoric and particular historical events such as the racist Andrew Jackson presidency and the “America First” movement that strove to keep the U.S. out of WWII. He also provides a frightening portrait of outspoken evangelical leaders with direct access to Trump (including Baptist writer Robert Jeffress and Christian Zionist Mike Evans), and offers an alternative way (relying on hope and humility) for evangelical leaders to think about their relation to power. Although Fea downplays the mythic side of Trump’s appeal, that does little to undermine this important title, which brings to the surface the recurring fear tactics that underpin American evangelical politics. (June)

Don’t forget to pre-order at your favorite bookstore.

*Believe Me* at the Festival of Faith and Writing

Believe Me BannerThis weekend hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) of Christian writers are gathered at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing.  We did a post about it yesterday.

My daughter Ally is a sophomore at Calvin.  Today she stumbled into the book exhibit and found the Eerdmans exhibit.  As many of you know, Eerdmans is publishing my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It will be out in June 2018.  (Don’t forget to pre-order from your favorite bookseller!)

When Ally arrived at the table, the good folks at Eerdmans welcomed her and set up a photo-op.  According to Ally, the people in the picture below are “just random people browsing at the table.”  Apparently they all got to their keep their Advanced Reader Copy!

Ally at Faith

Ally is second from the left in the red coat

Here are a few more pics:

Ally at Faith 2

Ally and her roommate Nicole are going to start a book club on campus.  (Not really,  but I think it’s a great idea)  🙂

Ally at Faith 3

Ally made some friends at the Eerdmans table

Ally at Faith 5

The dedication page.  You know who you are.

Ally at Faith 6

Nicole seems to be enjoying the Introduction.  She doesn’t know that I will be presenting her with a quiz shortly 🙂

 

Trump Evangelicals and “Legitimate Concerns”

Over at my Facebook page some very good historians and scholars who I respect have been critical of Mark Noll‘s blurb for my forthcoming (June) book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is the blurb:

Noll Fea quote

I tried to capture some of this last night in a series of tweets:

John Wilson, the editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, responded to these veiled tweets:

I even had one friend tell me on Facebook that I should get Eerdmans to edit Noll’s blurb to remove the word “legitimate.”

Frankly, I think Noll’s blurb nails it.  (After all, he read the book.  None of the critics have seen it).  Evangelicals do have “legitimate” concerns. They have also responded to those concerns, as Noll writes, in very unhealthy ways.

I thought about all of this again this morning as I read Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column.  She writes:

We discuss motives, but isn’t it always the same motive? “I have murder in my heart.” Why do so many Americans have murder in their hearts?

That is my question after the St. Valentine’s Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. We all know it is part of a continuing cultural catastrophe. A terrible aspect of the catastrophe is that so many central thoughts about it, and questions, have been flattened by time into clichés. People stop hearing when you mention them. “We talked about that during Columbine, didn’t we? That couldn’t be it.”

So we immediately revert to discussions of gun law, and only gun law. There is much to be improved in that area—I offer a suggestion at the end—but it is not the only part of the story. The story is also who we are now and what shape we’re in.

A way to look at the question is: What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?

We know. We all say it privately, but it’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

So much change, so much of it un-gentle. Throughout, was anyone looking to children and what they need? That wasn’t really a salient aim or feature of all the revolutions, was it? The adults were seeing to what they believed were their rights. Kids were a side thought.

At this moment we are in the middle of a reckoning about how disturbed our sexual landscape has become. This past week we turned to violence within marriages. We recently looked at the international sex trade, a phrase that sounds so 18th-century but refers to a real and profitable business.

All this change, compressed into 40 years, has produced some good things, even miraculous ones. But it does not feel accidental that America is experiencing what appears to be a mental-health crisis, especially among the young. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported as many as 20% of children 3 to 17 have, in any given year, a mental or emotional illness. There is research indicating depression among teenagers is worsening. National Public Radio recently quoted a 2005 report asserting the percentage of prison inmates with serious mental illness rose from less than 1% in 1880 to 21% in 2005. Deinstitutionalization swept health care and the psychiatric profession starting in the 1960s, and has continued since. The sick now go to the emergency room or stay among us untreated. In the society we have created the past 40 years, you know we are not making fewer emotionally ill young people, but more.

Not everyone will agree with me, but I do think Noonan addresses “legitimate concerns.”  The issue, as I see it, is less about the diagnosis of the problem and more about how to respond to it.  As I argue in Believe Me, Trump is not the answer.   Read the book and decide whether I am right–both about the “legitimate concerns” and about Trump as the answer.  And don’t forget to pre-order here.  🙂

Believe Me JPEG

Another Convening of the Court (Evangelicals)

This is from court evangelical Greg Laurie‘s Twitter feed:

I don’t recognize everyone in the picture, but I do see Franklin Graham, Paula White, Tim Clinton, and Robert Jeffress.

After looking at this photo-op I am reminded of former court evangelical A.R. Bernard’s line.

By the way, Chapter Four of my forthcoming Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is entitled “Power Brokers: The Court Evangelicals.”  The good folks at Eerdmans Publishing tell me that pre-orders help them get the message of the book to the maximum number of people.

Believe Me JPEG

 

The *Believe Me* Table of Contents

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I don’t think this will change between now and late Spring when Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump appears in print.

Introduction

Chapter One:  The Politics of Fear

Chapter Two:  The Playbook

Chapter Three: A Short History of Evangelical Fear

Chapter Four: Power Brokers: The Court Evangelicals

Chapter Five: “Make America Great Again”: Nostalgia for the Past

Conclusion

Don’t forget to pre-order!

A Spiritual Biography of Donald Trump?

Trump bioSome might say that this an oxymoron.

Whatever the case, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Scott Lamb of The Washington Times have written The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography.  It is also worth noting that Eric Metaxas wrote the foreword.  I will leave it there.

If anyone is interested, I have also jumped into the fray on this subject.  Please consider pre-ordering my Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It will be out in the late Spring with Eerdmans.  The good folks at Eerdmans tell me that pre-orders are important to advancing the message of the book.

Under Contract: “Evangelicals in the Age of Trump: Fear, Power, and Nostalgia”

EerdmansI am happy to announce that I have signed a contract with Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. to write a short book on evangelicals and Donald Trump.  (The title of the post is merely a working title).  The 60,000-word book is scheduled for publication in April 2018.

I am very excited to be working with Eerdmans on this project.  On Friday I spent the morning at the Eerdmans offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I had the chance to discuss the project with acquisitions editor David Bratt, publicist Rachel Brewer, editor-in-chief James Ernest, publisher Anita Eerdmans, and about a dozen other staff members who will be working on the editing, marketing, and sales of the book.  What a great team!

Stay tuned for more details!

Jon Pott on Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Christian Century is currently running an interview, conducted by writer Amy Frykholm, with Jon Pott, the recently retired editor-in-chief at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

I will confess that I have received a rejection letter from Jon Pott on more than one occasion, but I have always admired Eerdmans and its publishing agenda.
I have always understood Eerdmans to lean “evangelical” in the books that they publish, but Pott suggests that they see themselves more as a “mainline Protestant” publisher.
Here is a taste of the interview:
Eerdmans is somewhat hard to describe: it has a Dutch Reformed background and is socially progressive and theologically rather conservative. It is intellectually rigorous but interested in a non­academic audience. How would you describe it?
I see myself as very much in line with the thinking of Bill Eerdmans and other predecessors. During my time as editor, Eerdmans benefited from and was able to nurture an emerging center ground between progressive evangelicals on the one hand and traditional mainliners on the other. 
Eerdmans has a long history of publishing evangelicals, but I have always seen its deepest roots as mainline. When I came in 1968, we were already publishing Dutch Reformed theologians like G. C. Berkouwer and their Dutch Calvinist counterparts in the United States. They were preceded by thinkers like Abraham Kuyper. We would soon also publish Karl Barth, if we weren’t already. There was a strong European Reformed connection from the beginning, complemented by connections to, among others, American Presbyterians like B. B. Warfield at Princeton.
As the conversation grew in the 1960s between evangelicals and the mainline, we were deeply engaged with what  might be called the emerging evangelical renaissance, and we were well positioned to nurture it. On the mainline side, we saw the frustrations of people who felt that their traditions were being thinned out theologically, and we were able to reach out to them as well.
A lot of people might think of Eerdmans as an evangelical publisher that became increasingly mainline.
When I first took the job, one of the toughest tasks we had was to convince mainliners that we were mainliners. We were seen by many of them as almost exclusively an evangelical house, though that was not how we saw ourselves. 
It is less of a balancing act now. In fact, the two worlds have become much more intermingled. I am not sure how much sense it makes to talk in these terms. More or less theologically conservative does not translate into more or less evangelical or more or less mainline.
Eerdmans also had a long history of being culturally transformationist. One taproot goes back to Kuyper, who saw culture as something to be transformed, not averted. That had important implications for Eerdmans as it engaged the mainline and progressive evangelicals. 
What were some of the decisive books that Eerdmans published while you were there?
John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus was and remains an important book for us. It was tremendously influential not only in its own intellectual summons but for the connections it encouraged in the Radical Reformation tradition. One of those connections was to Stanley Hauerwas, who has been an important contributor and friend.
Another watershed book was Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square, which, like The Politics of Jesus, became a part of the vocabulary. It connected us with what became the neoconservative side of our market, and it contributed to the view that Christians had a responsibility in the public square.
Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind raised the question about where evangelicals had come from and where they were going. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son was certainly one of the most important pastoral books the company has ever done.