Christ of the Ozarks

Christ of the Ozarks

I haven’t visited the 65.6 foot-tall statue near Eureka-Springs, Arkansas, but I learned a lot about it from Ben Railton, the “American Studier.”  Here is a taste of his post:

Near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, at the top of the strikingly named Magnetic Mountain, stands a 65.5 foot-tall statue of Jesus. “Christ of the Ozarks” was erected by retired clergyman and political organizer Gerald L.K. Smith as part of a planned religious theme park on his sprawling estate that he called collectively his “Sacred Projects” (that overall project largely didn’t pan out, although Smith did also build a 4100-seat amphitheater where performances of “The Great Passion Play” are to this day featured almost nightly from May through October each year and have become one of the nation’s most-attended theatrical events). The statue, designed primarily by sculptor Emmet Sullivanand completed in 1966, faces the town of Eureka Springs as a blessing on and thank you to the town for allowing Smith to construct such a giant monument. I haven’t seen confirmation of this, but I have to believe it’s the second largest statue in the U.S. that portrays a single human subject, trailing only Monday’s subject the Statue of Liberty (and of course Jesus Christ was an actual historical figure as well as a symbolic one like Lady Liberty).

When we learn more about the personal and social histories of both Smith and Sullivan, the symbolic American meanings of “Christ of the Ozarks” deepen significantly. Smith initially rose to national prominence working with Huey Long in Louisiana; he quit his ministry in order to help run Long’s Share Our Wealth campaign, and took it over entirely after Long’s 1935 assassination. But while Long focused more overtly on issues of class and poverty, Smith was more dedicated to the cause of white supremacy, and gradually moved more fully into that realm. Those efforts culminated during World War II, in the course of which he founded the anti-Semitic America First Party and ran for President in 1944, denied the Holocaust, lobbied for the release of the Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg Trials, and generally became one of America’s most extreme white supremacist voices. I don’t mean to suggest that white supremacy and Evangelical Christianity are necessarily linked, but they certainly have often been, as we’re seeing again with the strikingly resilient evangelical support for our most overtly white supremacist president. At the very least it’s an important and telling fact that the nation’s largest monument to Christianity was constructed by one of the most extreme white supremacists of at least the last century.

Read the entire post here.

A Visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Gordon Conwell

I spent Monday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts (Boston-area).  Thanks to Gordon-Conwell president Dennis Hollinger for the invitation and Mary Ann Hollinger for her hospitality.

The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life sponsored conversation on evangelicals and politics that included Boisi director (and Jesuit theologian) Mark Massa, Dartmouth historian of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer, and yours truly.

A few takeaways:

  1. Gordon-Conwell is a seminary founded by mid-century evangelical stalwarts Billy Graham, J. Howard Pew and J. Harold Ockenga.  Over the last fifty years it has been an institutional fixture on the evangelical landscape.  During the course of the evening I did not meet a single Trump supporter.  This is the first time that I have been at a self-identified evangelical institution where I did not meet someone who wanted to make the case for Trump.
  2. I talked with several pastors-in-training (MDiv students) who wanted advice about how to deal with Trump supporters in their future congregations.  My advice:  preach the Gospel in season and out of season.   I hope they will avoid bringing politics into the pulpit, but rather preach in a positive way about what the Bible teaches regarding truth and lying, welcoming the stranger, caring for the “least of these,” loving neighbors,” the dignity of human life, and the pursuit of holiness.  I encouraged them, to borrow a term from Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, to be “faithfully present” in the congregations and communities where God calls them to serve.
  3.  All of the evangelical millennials I chatted with were fed-up with Trump and the Christian Right.  It seems like a sea-change is coming.
  4.  During the formal conversation, Gordon-Conwell theology and missions professor Peter Kuzmic talked about how his fellow evangelicals in Eastern Europe were appalled that American evangelicals supported Trump.  I asked him publicly if the evangelical support of Donald Trump was hindering the work of the Gospel in Eastern Europe.  He did not miss a beat in saying “yes.”  This is tragic.  It is the case I have been making during the Believe Me book tour.  I told Kuzmic that I would like to take him with me on the road.  His testimony was a powerful one.  While court evangelicals continue to take victory laps over securing an originalist judiciary that might overturn Roe v. Wade, the witness of the Gospel is becoming more difficult, especially for missionaries.
  5. We talked a lot of about “fracture” within the evangelical community.  The days of a unified neo-evangelicalism (if there ever was such a thing) are over.  George Marsden once said that an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.  Well, Billy Graham is now dead and there will be no one to replace him.  This is not a statement about whether or not there are any potential heirs to Graham.  It is rather a statement about the current state of American culture, a state that Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers has called the “Age of Fracture.” I want to write more about this.
  6. It was an honor to share the stage and the evening with Randall Balmer, a scholar who has taught me so much about evangelicalism.

Tony Bennett, Evangelicalism, and University of Virginia Basketball

Bennett

Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, was no evangelical.  But he was a champion of religious liberty and had a lot of support among Virginia evangelicals when he ran for president in 1800. So it is unclear what he would have thought about an evangelical running his school’s national championship basketball program.

UVA coach Tony Bennett has been outspoken about his evangelical faith.  His faith has been covered by the Billy Graham Evangelistic AssociationThe Daily Progress,  the Baptist Press, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Heavy.  (The Washington Post discussed how he handled racism during 2017 white nationalist invasion of Charlottesville, but says nothing about his Christian faith).

Following his team’s national championship victory on Monday night, Bennett told Jim Nantz that he had played a Christian song titled “Hills and Valleys” to get his team ready for the game.  This song must have had special meaning for Bennett.  Last March, Bennett’s UVA program was definitely in the “valley” after it became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed (UMBC). (It should be no surprise that Bennett received a text from former NFL coach and motivational speaker Tony Dungy after the loss to UMBC).

The lyrics of “Hills and Valleys” focus on God’s faithfulness during the joy and pain of life:

I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowestplace
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

I’ve watched my dreams get broken

In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there (to the one who set me there)
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Frankly, it’s refreshing to see Bennett invoke a song that celebrates God’s faithfulness in the wins AND the losses.

The role that Bennett’s faith plays in his coaching is covered well in Jonathan Adams’s piece at Heavy. Here is a taste:

Virginia coach Tony Bennett is outspoken about his Christian faith and how it shapes his work with players. During the 2019 NCAA tournament, Bennett noted his faith helps him through stressful situations in games.

“You certainly feel things – things bother you, but where does peace and perspective come from? And I always tell our guys: It’s got to be something that is unconditional,” Bennett said, per Christian Headlines. “And I know I have that in the love of my family – unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That’s, for me, where I draw my strength from – my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things.”

Bennett committed to being a Christian while he was attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp when he was 14, per Decision magazine. The Virginia coach emphasizes five pillars to his players, and the tenets have become a staple of the Virginia program. Bennett drew upon Biblical principals to create the five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. Former Virginia player Joe Harris spoke with Decision magazine about the impact these pillars have had on his life beyond basketball.

“You can apply those pillars to the rest of your life, not just basketball,” Harris noted to Decision. “I always tell people that being at Virginia with coach Bennett helped me in a huge developmental standpoint as a basketball player, but that I developed even more as a person.”

Something tells me Jefferson would still be happy with the UVA win.

Doug Sweeney is the New Dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School

Sweeney

Congratulations to Doug Sweeney!  He moves from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois to Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug replaces founding dean Timothy George.  Here is the press release:

Douglas A. Sweeney has been named the new dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham effective July 1. 

Sweeney is only the second dean to serve the interdenominational seminary, which was established in 1988 with Timothy George as the founding dean.

Sweeney’s appointment follows a national search to replace George, who is retiring as dean at the end of the current academic year. 

“I am absolutely delighted at the choice of Dr. Doug Sweeney to be the next dean of Beeson Divinity School. He brings to this role superb scholarly credentials along with a deep love for Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, the Lord’s church and God’s mission in the world,” George said. “The future of Beeson Divinity School is as bright as the promises of God, and I look forward to welcoming Dr. Sweeney as our friend, colleague and leader.” 

A world-renowned scholar of American theologian Jonathan Edwards, Sweeney comes to Beeson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he is the Distinguished Professor and Chair of Church History and the History of Christian Thought and founding director of the Jonathan Edwards Center. 

Having served on Trinity’s faculty since 1997, Sweeney was the founding director of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity, 2000–2012. He raised nearly $4 million for the center, supervised staff, collaborated with boards, and hosted conferences and lectures. 

Prior to his tenure at Trinity, Sweeney served at Yale University where he edited The Works of Jonathan Edwards and was a lecturer in church history and historical theology.  

Samford Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs J. Michael Hardin said, “Dr. Sweeney brings together internationally renowned scholarship, academic administrative experience and a deep love and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Samford President Andrew Westmoreland said, “Dr. Sweeney is ideally prepared to provide wise, visionary leadership for Beeson. His commitment to the relevance and authority of Scripture, his strong record of scholarship, his devotion to equipping those called to ministry and his engaging, irenic spirit will serve him — and Samford — well.”

Gary Fenton, former longtime pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, and senior advancement officer at Samford, is delighted by Sweeney’s appointment, having personally benefited from his book, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement.

“Dr. Sweeney is an outstanding evangelical scholar, who is committed to excellence of the mind, spiritual depth and Christ-like passion,” Fenton said. “He is an excellent choice to build on the rich theological foundation that Dean Timothy George has provided for this school. I am so grateful for the school’s past and excited for its future.”

Sweeney is an active member of St. Mark Lutheran Church, an evangelical Lutheran church affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, serving as both an elder and vice president. A former Baptist, he is a longtime Sunday School and Bible teacher, whose ministry extends into many other churches.

Sweeney holds degrees from Vanderbilt University (Ph.D., M.A.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A.) and Wheaton College (B.A.). He and his wife, Wilma, have one adult son.

“I consider it a great honor and privilege to serve as the next dean of Beeson Divinity School. I have long been an admirer of Dean Timothy George, and think that Beeson is the best-conceived and cultivated divinity school in all of North America,” Sweeney said. “My approach to theological education meshes well with Beeson’s guiding confessional documents, academic culture and personal approach to teaching and mentoring students. In fact, for me, moving to Beeson is like moving to a school that was designed to facilitate the kind of academic work, ecumenism and ministry I have done all my life. These are exciting times in which to serve the Lord together at Samford. Please pray with me that God will guide us firmly into the future.”

Haugen: Young Evangelicals are Committed to Social Justice

Black Lives Matter

At the recent Faith Angle Forum in Miami, Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of the International Justice Mission, said that there is a major divide between older and younger white evangelicals on issues of race and social justice in America.  I think one finds the same age-based division in white evangelical support for Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of Jon Ward’s piece at Yahoo News:

The generational divide among white evangelicals over issues of race and social justice has given the group a more conservative reputation than is merited, but that will change in the coming decade, according to the head of an influential Christian aid group.

Speaking with a group of journalists here this week, Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of the International Justice Mission (IJM), which mostly works outside the United States, also addressed questions about what insights he might have about injustice in America.

Haugen avoided commenting directly on issues of racial injustice, or on the question of why white evangelical Christians have been stalwart supporters of President Trump, who rose to power by demonizing immigrants. But Haugen stood by his assertion years ago, before the rise of Trump, that there is a “sea change” among evangelicals as it relates to issues of injustice. However, he qualified that much of this change is not yet being seen among older white evangelicals.

In particular, Haugen pinpointed the world of conservative philanthropy, which intersects closely with nonprofit and aid work. The tension, he intimated, is between a money sector in evangelicalism dominated by wealthy individuals who skew older and much more conservative in their politics, and an activist sector that is younger and far more progressive in its worldview.

This report is very interesting in light of the debate taking place right now between the followers of California megachurch pastor John MacArthur and the Calvinist conservative evangelical group The Gospel Coalition.  Some of you may recall that MacArthur is the megachurch pastor who claims that the Bible does not teach social justice.  The Gospel Coalition includes evangelical theologians and pastors such as Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Russell Moore, Al Mohler, and John Piper.  They have a long way to go before someone would call their constituency “social justice warriors,” but they are making efforts, particularly as it relates to racial reconciliation.

Here are few examples how this debate is playing out:

In a recent blog post, a MacArthur follower from an organization called Sovereign Nations argues that the Gospel Coalition is drifting towards identity politics by replacing the central message of the Gospel (salvation through Christ) with social justice.

Both MacArthur followers and some Gospel Coalition followers attacked Jemar Tisby on Twitter after the Gospel Coalition published a positive review of his The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.  (We talked to Tisby about this in Episode 48 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).

Here are some of the authors of MacArthur’s social justice statement.  This is Sovereign Nations event:

If you don’t want to watch the whole video above, you can get a taste here:

If Haugen is correct about generational shifts, and I think he is, these anti-social justice crusaders are going to be in for a rude awakening.

Today’s *Washington Post* Piece on Trump and Evangelicals

Trump court evangelicals

If Pew Research is correct, Donald Trump is more popular among white evangelicals who regularly attend church and less popular among those who do not.  I tried to explain this in a piece at today’s Washington Post “Made by History” column.  Here is a taste:

Many white evangelical churchgoers now see the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade as equivalent to their call to share the Gospel with unbelievers. They subscribe to the message that the only way to live out evangelical faith in public is to vote for the candidates who will most effectively execute the 40-year-old Christian right playbook.

The movement’s message is so strong that even when pastors oppose the politicization of their religion, the message is not likely to persuade congregants. Indeed, many white evangelical pastors do not preach politics from their pulpit. Some speak boldly against the idolatrous propensity of their congregations to seek political saviors.

But these pastors cannot control the messaging their flocks imbibe after they leave church on Sunday. And a massive Christian right messaging machine targets these Americans with precision. Ministries and nonprofit organizations, driven by conservative political agendas, bombard the mailboxes, inboxes and social media feeds of ordinary evangelicals. Many of these organizations appeal to long-standing evangelical fears about cultural decline or provide selective historical evidence that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a “Christian nation,” even though this never was true.

Evangelicals filter what they hear during weekly sermons through Fox News and conservative talk radio, producing an approach to political engagement that looks more like the Republican Party than the Kingdom of God.

None of this is new. People in the pews (or in the case of evangelical megachurches, the chairs), have always been selective in how they apply their pastor’s sermons in everyday life. Evangelical Christians, from the Puritans to the present, have always mixed traditional Christian teachings with more non-Christian sources as they cultivate their religious lives. Today, however, cable television and social media expose white evangelicals to ideas that come from outside the church but that claim to be driven by Christianity at an unprecedented rate.

Read the entire piece here.

Free Excerpt from *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dWhat is perhaps most disturbing about [Dallas megachurch pastor Robert] Jeffress’s [book] Twlight’s Last Gleaming is the way in which his deeply held passion for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others is neutralized by his political agenda.  The book begins with a foreword by former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “If you are looking for a sweet little ‘bookette’ that is politically correct and safe to read and share with staunch unbelievers so as not to offend them, then put this book down and keep looking.”  In the first sentence of the first page, Huckabee alienates unbelievers and, in the process, undermines everything Jeffress says in the book about the importance of evangelism.  But Jeffress proves in the pages that follow that he does not need Huckabee’s help in weakening his gospel witness.  Jeffress urges his readers to give up on the culture wars and focus on their “unprecedented chance” in these final days of humankind to “point people to the hope of Jesus Christ.”  Then he spends the rest of his book teaching readers how to more effectively win the culture wars.  At one point in the book Jeffress attributes the steep decline in the number of new converts baptized in the Southern Baptist Church to spiritually weak church members who are afraid to offend anyone with the claims of the gospel.  Jeffress may be correct.  But the possibility that the decline in baptisms is related to the fact that most Americans now associate the gospel with partisan politics does not appear to have even crossed his mind.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, p. 128-129.

Trends Regarding Race and Evangelicalism

latin evangelicals

Here are three trends from Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University:

  1. “Evangelicals are not keeping pace with America’s racial diversity”
  2. “African Americans and Hispanics are on the forefront of the rise of ‘nothing in particular’ category of religious affiliation”
  3. “Non-white evangelicals often have higher rates of religious attendance.”

See how Burge unpacks these points at Christianity Today.

Franklin Graham Wants to Transfer the Billy Graham Papers from Wheaton to Charlotte

Billy Graham Library

Here is the official Wheaton College statement:

Wheaton College has received a request from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) to transfer Dr. Billy Graham’s papers and the BGEA’s organizational records from the Billy Graham Center Archives on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., in order to consolidate Dr. Graham’s historical records.

College leaders are in communication with the BGEA regarding its planned consolidation. Wheaton College affirms its longstanding respect for the BGEA and looks forward to continuing the positive relationship that the College and the BGEA have enjoyed for decades.

Wheaton College is grateful for the life and legacy of Dr. Graham, who graduated from Wheaton in 1943 and received an honorary doctorate in 1956. His relationship with the College spanned eight decades, including 27 years as a member of the Board of Trustees, after which he was a Trustee Emeritus for the rest of his life. His vision for global evangelism continues through events, initiatives and academic programs of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Forty years ago, Dr. Graham entrusted his papers and other materials to Wheaton College. Since then, Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center Archives has had the honor of curating and making available primary sources regarding Dr. Graham and the BGEA, as well as organizational records, personal papers, and oral histories from other sources documenting the history of evangelism and missionary activity of North American nondenominational Protestants. More than 19,000 scholars, journalist and other researchers have spent 67,000 hours in the Billy Graham Center Archives since it opened, producing dozens of books, articles and papers annually.

Wheaton College remains committed to the vision that Dr. Graham articulated at the dedication of the Center in 1980: “I hope and pray that the Billy Graham Center will be a world hub of inspiration, research, and training that will glorify Christ and serve every church and organization in preaching and teaching the Gospel to the world.”

The Billy Graham Center will continue to house the archives of numerous organizations and individuals central to American evangelism and missionary work worldwide, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Lausanne Movement, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, in the building that bears Billy Graham’s name.

Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) is a coeducational Christian liberal arts college noted for its rigorous academics, integration of faith and learning, and consistent ranking among the top liberal arts colleges in the country. For more information, visit wheaton.edu.

I don’t have horse in this race, but I do hope that scholars will have the same access to the Graham papers now that they are with Franklin.  Will the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte have a professional archivist to care for the papers? What kind of research facilities do they have? How will the papers be managed?

Right now, it appears that the “Billy Graham Library” in Charlotte is little more than a museum, Christian bookstore, snack shop, and prayer garden. The website says nothing about research.  Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College has the most extensive archive collection in the country devoted to American evangelicalism.

Episode 48: The Color of Compromise

PodcastWith so many contemporary examples of racism in American society, it is tempting to see these as the actions of racist individuals. However, many social critics have increasingly pointed to the structure and system of racism as an active part of American society today, and the Church is no different. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling are joined by Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby), the president of The Witness, a Black Christian Collective, host of the podcast Pass the Mic, and the author of the new book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.

Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).

Christian Universalism

mcCLymondChristianity Today is running an informative interview with Saint Louis University theologian and religious historian Michael McClymond on Christian universalism.  The interview, conducted by Paul Copan of Palm Beach Atlantic University, is based on his new book The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism.  Here is a taste of the interview:

What prompted you to write on the topic of universalism?

There were several stages in the process. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I had a religious studies professor—the late Dr. Edmund Perry—who insisted that Paul taught universal salvation in Romans and 1 Corinthians. I was taking Greek at the time, and the professor’s claim did not seem credible to me. When I attended Yale Divinity School, I wrote a comparative essay on the eschatologies of Origen and Karl Barth—a short piece that I now recognize as the tiny seed from which The Devil’s Redemption later sprang.

Another factor is a dream that I had about a dozen years ago. Without going into too much detail, this was an unnerving encounter in which I saw God’s coming judgment arriving in the form of an overpowering storm; people in the path of the storm were pleasantly chit-chatting when they ought to have been seeking cover. The dream left a lasting impression. It suggested to me that we’re unprepared—both inside and outside of the church—for the return of Christ.

When Rob Bell came out with Love Wins in 2011, what struck me was not so much the book itself, with its well-worn arguments, but rather the widespread approval the book elicited, together with the collective yawn of indifference on the part of most who didn’t approve. I came to the conclusion that Karl Barth’s affirmation of universal election in the 1940s (in the second volume of his massive Church Dogmatics) had inaugurated a widespread turn toward universalism in mainstream theological circles, that this trend had gained momentum over the last half-century, and that the time was overdue for a wide-ranging appraisal of this teaching.

Read the entire interview here.   You can buy the book, in two volumes, from Baker Academic at the whopping price of $90.00.

So What DOES Al Mohler Believe About Social Justice?

Mohler Macarthur

Albert Mohler and John MacArthur in 2014

At a recent conference at John MacArthur‘s Grace Community Church, someone asked Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist seminary president, why he did not sign MacArthur’s statement condemning “social justice” in the evangelical community.  (We covered this here and here).

Here is a taste of Samuel Smith’s reporting at the Christian Post:

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler explained why he did not sign last summer’s John MacArthur-led statement condemning evangelicals’ embrace of social justice as dangerous to the Gospel.

Mohler, an influential voice in conservative evangelicalism who frequently voices his opinions on current events through his daily podcast, took part in a panel discussion last week at the 2019 Shepherd’s Conference at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California.

During the panel discussion moderated by Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson, Mohler and other panelists on stage were asked why they didn’t sign The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel.

The statement spearheaded last year by the 79-year-old MacArthur claimed that social justice “values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

I read this entire article and I still don’t know what Mohler thinks about social justice.  He seems to have tip-toed around the issue without really saying anything. Here is a taste of Smith’s reporting:

When directly asked why he didn’t sign, Mohler explained:

“I want to be very honest. You have known me for a long time. So you know of my concerns. I am having before God trying to address those concerns the way I think best consistent with 35 years of public ministry,” Mohler said. “I was not particularly appreciative of being handed a statement.”

Mohler stressed that when it came to the statement, he had no opportunity to “offer any particular consultation or suggestion.”

“It is not pride of authorship but I am just reluctant to sign onto anything that is not creedal and confessional that doesn’t express exactly how I want to say something,” Mohler explained. “Not signing should not be interpreted as a rejection of common concern. I don’t think that is fair.”

Read the entire piece here.

Apparently the Southern Baptists are divided on this issue.

“They had a guy from Messiah College”

This is a fascinating conversation between two court evangelicalsEric Metaxas and Lance Wallnau. Thanks to Peter Montgomery from Right Wing Watch for calling it to my attention.

Here is the entire conversation:

We have spent a lot of time covering Metaxas here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but some of you may be unfamiliar with Wallnau.  Here is what I wrote about him in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

The second major stream of court evangelicalism flows from Independent Network Charismatic (INC) Christianity.  According to scholars Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, INC is the fastest-growing Christian movement in both the Western world and the global South.  INC Christians are outside the network of traditional Pentecostals.  While they embrace many of the so-called gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues-speaking, prophecy, healing, miracles), they do not affiliate with traditional Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, the International Foursquare Gospel Church, or the Church of God (Cleveland, TN).  In fact, the INC movement is not a denomination; instead, it is a network of strong spiritual leaders, scattered across the globe, with very large followings.  Like the so-called Latter Rain movement that infiltrated traditional Pentecostalism in the 1940s and 1950s, INC leaders believe that a great revival of the Holy Spirit will take place shortly before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and God will raise up apostles and prophets to lead this revival.  These new spiritual leaders will have authority that comes directly from God, not from denominations or congregations. Some of the more prominent INC prophets, all of whom believe that we are currently living in the midst of this great Holy Spirit revival, include Che Ahn (Harvest International Ministries in Pasadena, CA), Bill Johnson (Bethel Church in Redding, CA), Chuck Pierce (Glory of Zion Ministries in Corinth, TX), Cindy Jacobs (General International in Red Oak, TX), Mike Bickle (International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO), Lou Engle (The Call in Colorado Springs, CO), Dutch Sheets (Dutch Sheets Ministries in Dallas, TX), and Lance Wallnau (Lance Learning Group in Dallas, TX).

INC prophets and apostles believe that they have been anointed to serve God’s agents in ushering in his future kingdom, a process that many describe as God “bringing heaven to earth.”  They are thus deeply attracted to Seven Mountain Dominionism, the belief that Jesus will not return until society comes under the dominion of Jesus Christ.  Drawing from Isaiah 2:2 (“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains”), INC prophets want to reclaim seven cultural “mountains”: family, government, arts and entertainment, media, business, education, and religion.  The goal is to place God’s appointed leaders atop these cultural mountains as means of setting the stage for the time when God will bring heaven to earth….

…As early as 2007, INC prophet Kim Clement received a word from God: “Trump Clement received a word from God: “Trump shall become a trumpet.  I will raise up Trump to become a trumpet, and Bill Gates to open up the gate of a financial realm for the church.”  Early in the 2016 campaign, Lance Wallnau received a similar word: “Donald Trump is a wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness.”  When Wallnau’s prophecy caught the attention of Trump’s evangelical supporters, he was invited to attend a meeting with the candidate and other leaders in Trump Tower.  As Wallnau listened to Trump talk about his desire to give evangelicals a more prominent voice in government, he sensed that God was giving him an “assignment”–a “calling related to this guy.”  One day, while he was reading his Facebook page, Wallnau saw a meme predicting Trump would be the “45th president of the United States.”  God told Wallnau to pick up his Bible and turn to Isaiah 45.  On reading the passage, Wallnau realized that, not only would Trump be a “wrecking ball” to political correctness, but he would be elected president of the United States in the spirit of the ancient Persian King Cyrus.  In the Old Testament, Cyrus was the secular political leader whom God used to send the exiled kingdom of Judah back to the Promised Land so that they could rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its holy Temple.  Wallnau was shocked by this discovery.  “God was messing with my head,” he told Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma, a magazine that covers INC and other Pentecostal and charismatic movements (and claims a circulation of over 275,000).  From this point forward, Wallnau would become an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.

The Metaxas-Wallnau interview is interesting for several reasons:

  1. Notice Wallnau’s reference to Seven Mountain Dominionism.
  2. Wallnau’s description of his conversion experience during the 1970s while a student Valley Forge Military Academy seems legitimate to me.  His story of  engaging Campus Crusade workers on campus in a snowstorm is one of millions of similar stories heard regularly in evangelical circles.  And Wallnau tells it very well.  Wallnau may be embellishing the story, but he still seems to have had a real spiritual experience.
  3. Wallnau’s failure to find other born-again Christians in the northeast corridor during the 1970s confirms my own family’s story.  My family had never heard of evangelical or “born-again” Christianity until my father had a conversion experience in the early 1980s.  I was recently talking to another evangelical who grew up in New Jersey during the 1980s and we were noting how northeast evangelicals in this era were forced to live their faith as a minority.  This experience has led many northeastern evangelicals to think differently about Christian public engagement when compared with southerners or midwesterners.  One day I want to tell this story in full.  It strikes me that those raised in an evangelical culture–Southern Baptists, Dutch Reformed, etc.–did not have to face the kind of persecution and outsider status that we in the northeast had to face when we identified as born-again Christians.  This means we look at American evangelicalism with a different set of eyes.  I don’t recall ever meeting an evangelical Protestant during my childhood.  Wallnau had to go to Lebanon Valley College in south central Pennsylvania in order to find one.
  4. Wallnau’s story about Mennonite Pentecostals in Manheim, Pennsylvania was new to me.  Is anyone aware of Mennonite Pentecostal communities where women’s “bonnets” blew off their heads because the power of the Holy Spirit was so powerful?
  5. Wallnau’s reference to James H. Brown’s charismatic revivals in a Parksburg, PA Presbyterian Church got me curious, so I did some research.  Brown was the pastor at Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church in Parksburg and one of the leaders of the charismatic movement within American Presbyterianism.  Read about him here.
  6. During this interview Donald Trump is compared favorably to Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Wilbur Wilberforce.

Of course none of these observations explain the title of my post.  If you fast-forward to the 26-minute mark, Wallnau is talking with Metaxas about his claim that Donald Trump is a modern-day King Cyrus and he mentions a professor at Messiah College.

(Just for the record, I did not coin the term “vessel theology.”  Wallnau is referring to this piece by Tara Isabella Burton at VOX.  I am quoted here, but I never use the term “vessel theology.”  Nevertheless, I do think the term is useful to describe what Wallnau is doing with the King Cyrus prophecy).

Timothy Dalrymple is the New President and CEO of *Christianity Today*

Tim D

Timothy Dalrymple will take the helm at Christianity Today on May 1, 2019.

Christianity Today editor Mark Galli reports:

The president-elect was raised in California, where his father served in several pastoral roles. He began to preach and teach at a young age. He was also a national champion gymnast and saw God’s faithfulness in victory and defeat alike. He took his passions for ministry, learning, and athletic achievement with him to Stanford University.

When his gymnastics career ended in a broken neck, he plunged into campus ministry and overseas missions trips. He became president of Stanford’s Campus Crusade (Cru) chapter.

It was also at Stanford where he met his wife, Joyce. Both helped to lead a Christian unity movement on campus that brought together students from all the university’s Christian fellowships to worship God with one another.

After graduating from Stanford with a double major in philosophy and religious studies, Tim earned an MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in modern western religious thought at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Along the way he also served in youth ministry, prison chaplaincy, and graduate and faculty ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Tim’s desire to thoughtfully engage the public square and to find creative ways of sharing the gospel in the new media marketplace found expression after Harvard in his work with the multi-religious website Patheos (2008–2014). First he was managing editor of Patheos’s evangelical channel, then director of content and vice-president of business development.

In 2013 Dalrymple founded Polymath, a creative agency that helps clients with branding, design, web, video, marketing and communications, and content development. Its clients have included the Museum of the Bible, International Justice Mission, the American Enterprise Institute, and Indiana Wesleyan University.

Read the entire piece here.

On a personal note, six or seven years ago Dalrymple recruited me to write a weekly column titled “Confessing History” for Patheos’s “Evangelical Channel.”  He also edited the column.  Tim eventually folded “Confessing History” into the Anxious Bench blog.  I always appreciated his encouragement and support for my work and I wish him well as he moves to Christianity Today.

Evangelicals Love Trump’s “National Emergency” Declaration

Border WallPerhaps you have seen the new NPR/PBS/Marist Poll on Americans reaction to Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” on the Mexican border. I used this poll to begin my lecture yesterday at the University of Southern California.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here are a few things worth noting:

  • 61% of all Americans disapprove of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.  36% approve.
  • But only 26% of white evangelicals disapprove of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.   67% approve

 

  • 39% of Americans believe that there is a national emergency at the Mexican border.  58% of Americans do not believe this.
  • But 70% of white evangelicals believe that there is a national emergency at the Mexican border.  22% of white evangelicals do not believe this.

 

  • 36% of Americans believe that Trump is “properly using” his presidential powers by declaring a national emergency on the border.  57% do not.
  • But 69% of white evangelicals believe that Trump is “properly using” his presidential powers by declaring a national emergency on the border.  23% do not.

 

  • 54% of Americans said that they are “less likely” to vote for Trump in 2020 because he has declared a national emergency to build a border wall.  33% of Americans said they were more “likely” to vote for Trump because of the national emergency and the wall.  12% of Americans said the wall will not make any difference in how they vote in 2020.
  • Only 22% of white evangelicals said that they are “less likely” to vote for Trump in 2020 because he has declared a national emergency to build a border wall.  60% said they are more likely to vote for Trump in 2020 because he wants to build a border wall.  15% of white evangelicals said the wall will not make any difference in how they vote in 2020.

These are very revealing statistics.  They tell us a lot about white evangelicals today.  Why are they so supportive of Trump’s national emergency and his border wall and why are they so out of step with the rest of the American population?  Read the report here and draw your own conclusions.

As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, white evangelicals are fearful that their white Christian nation is eroding and they believe Trump’s immigration policies are the best way to save it.

Thanks to John Haas for calling this poll to my attention.

Believe Me 3d

Some Thoughts on James Dobson

Dad

My grandparents’ house in Montville (Taylortown), New Jersey, 1972.  My Dad is on the left.  I am standing by the car in the back.  The woman is my mother’s cousin.

I have been a critic of James Dobson for a long time.  I hit him pretty hard in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I am no fan of his Christian nationalism, his culture-warrior approach to public life, or his court evangelicalism. My wife and I raised two strong and independent daughters who both describe themselves as feminists in the best sense of the word.  Unlike millions of our fellow evangelicals, we did not turn to Dobson for advice on how to raise them.  On marriage, we are not complementarians, as Dobson suggests we should be.

You can read my posts about James Dobson here.  Almost all of them are critical.

But history is complicated.  And Dobson’s influence is much more complex than the story that those of us who want to demonize him often tell.

Back in the early 1980s my father, a general contractor, son of Italian immigrants, and former Marine, converted to evangelical Christianity.   My entire family–myself included–soon followed him out of our white ethnic Catholicism and into a non-denominational Bible church.  My family’s conversion experience changed the direction of my family’s life.  My parents, my brothers, and my sister would be quick to agree with this statement.  Those who knew and continue to know our family would say the same thing.  I am sure extended family members would also agree.  My conversion changed the direction of my life.  As I have written elsewhere, I became an academic historian and a better and more thoughtful person because of, not in spite of, my born-again experience.

I think it’s fair to say that my father raised his children, especially his boys (my sister came later), with an iron fist.  He was tough on us.  He was a stern disciplinarian who could get angry easily.  He used corporal punishment on us, but I never thought he was abusive.  When he spanked us, we usually deserved it.  My Dad is now 77-years-old and I am sure he would agree with everything I just wrote.  He was a good Dad, but we also feared him.

When my Dad converted (I was in high school), his life changed.  Someone in our new church suggested that he read books by James Dobson.  My Dad was never much of a reader, but I remember Dobson’s books sitting next to his chair in our family room.  Since my Dad spent a lot of time during the day in his pick-up truck, he would listen to Dobson’s Focus on the Family programs as he drove between jobs.   James Dobson helped my Dad become a better father. Though I have never talked about this with my mother, I think she would say that he became a much better husband as well.  Our home became more loving, more peaceful, and more God-honoring.  We had a long way to go, but we were on the right track.

The point is this:  My Dad did not need James Dobson to teach him how to be a  masculine, authoritarian, patriarch.  He already knew how to do this and he was pretty good at it.  Dobson softened him.  He raised my younger sister very differently, partly as a result of Dobson’s advice.  He learned to love my Mom better because James Dobson spoke into his life through his books and his radio show.

I am sure there are thousands of stories like my Dad’s. Who will tell these stories?  Some might say Dobson taught evangelicals how to be patriarchal jerks who represent everything that is wrong with American evangelicalism.  And perhaps there is some truth to such a diagnosis.  But my mother, my sister, my brothers, and I have never seen it that way.

History is complex.

Evangelical Praise Songs and the “Manilow Effect”

Earlier this week we posted about the power of the key change in evangelical praise songs.  Read the post here.

Fred Clark noticed our post at his popular Patheos blog “Slacktivist.”  He has obviously thought more about this.  Here is a taste of his wonderfully-titled post “When will this strong yearning end?“:

I call this the Manilow Effect. The fact that a well-timed key change may be predictable, cheesy, and transparently manipulative won’t prevent it from working. You don’t have to like the song or to admire the song or to enjoy the song. You can even viscerally resent its contrived schmaltz. But none of that will prevent you from experiencing a brief sensation of exultation that you have, at last, made it through the rain and found yourself respected by the others who got rained on too and made it throooough.

That is what it is, but it shouldn’t be confused with an experience of actual worship any more than it should be confused with actual heartbreak for Mandy, who came and who gave without taking before you sent her away.

On a related note, I’d bet that in the hands of a talented worship band “Weekend in New England” could — with very few changes to the lyrics — inspire a very successful altar call. That’s partly because of the genius of Barry Manilow’s key changes, but mainly it’s because we haven’t really understood or examined what it is we’re doing or measuring when we think of “a very successful altar call.” 

Read the entire post here.

A friend on Twitter sent this along:

The Key Change in Evangelical Praise Songs

I am sure someone has written on the phenomenon of the key change in evangelical praise songs. If not, it would make a great scholarly study at the intersection of anthropology and music.  Whenever a praise band makes a key change I notice that the number of raised hands in worship rises significantly.   Any thoughts?

Before the key change:

before key c hange

After the key change:

after worship

🙂