Some Good Stuff About Evangelicals

Evangelicals serving

I recently published a piece at the magazine of the National Association of Evangelicals titled “Hope, Humility, and History: How Evangelicals Have Been an Influence for Good.”  Here is a taste:

Evangelicals have been taking some hard hits lately. Some are even abandoning the label because it has become too associated with a political agenda. As a historian who has written and thought deeply about the relationship between evangelical Christianity and American life, I am fully aware that for every positive contribution evangelicalism has made to American culture, we can point to another way in which evangelicalism, sadly, has been at the forefront of some of the nation’s darkest moments.

It is imperative that evangelicals study their past and come to terms with it. This requires us to lament the moments in which we have failed and celebrate the moments when the good news of the gospel has changed lives, set people on a course for eternity with God, and led them to act in ways that are good and just. Throughout history, evangelicals have contributed to society in positive ways when we have emphasized hope over fear and humility over the pursuit of power.

Read the rest here.

My Morning on Capitol Hill

DirksenActually, it was more like “my forty-five minutes on Capitol Hill.”

As I wrote the other day, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) invited me to speak on Believe Me to about 100 “evangelical leaders” at its annual Washington Briefing.

I thought the talk went well.  If there were pro-Trumpers or court evangelicals in the room, they did not speak during the Q&A.  I met several evangelical leaders who voted for Trump, but most of them said they chose him because they did not want to vote for Hillary Clinton.

After the talk, I chatted in the hallway of the Dirksen Senate Building with about eight or ten attendees.  Almost all of them brought-up abortion and the Supreme Court. Frankly, I was surprised how many of these pro-life evangelical leaders agreed with my view that the overturning of Roe v. Wade was not the most effective way of reducing abortions in the United States.

Several folks on Twitter said that they were surprised the NAE invited someone like me to speak to their leadership.  Those who wrote these tweets do not understand the difference between the Christian Right-inspired conservative evangelicals loyal to Trump and the agenda of the NAE.   Actually, the NAE seems to be striking just the right tone in this so-called “age of Trump.”  For example, read their statement “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.”

I know a lot of people were praying for me or sending good wishes as I addressed the group this morning.  They were much appreciated.  Thank you!

I’ll be Southern Methodist University in Dallas tomorrow night.  Let’s hope my flights don’t get canceled due to Hurricane Michael.

Progressive Evangelicals Revive the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

YMCA Wabash

The Wabash Avenue YMCA, Chicago

In 1973, a group of evangelical leaders gathered at the YMCA on Wabash Avenue in Chicago to affirm the Christian call to racial justice, care for the poor, peace, and equality for women.  The result of this meeting was The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.  The signers included Samuel Escobar, Frank Gaebelein, Vernon Grounds, Nancy Hardesty, Carl F.H. Henry, Paul B. Henry, Rufus Jones, C.T. McIntire, David Moberg, Richard Mouw, William Pannell, John Perkins, Richard Pierard, Bernard Ramm, Ronadl Sider, Sharon Gallagher, Lewis Smedes, Jim Wallis, and John Howard Yoder.

Historian David Swartz begins his excellent book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism with a discussion of this meeting.  I encourage you to read his extensive coverage of this important moment in the history of progressive evangelicalism.  I also highly recommend Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice.

Forty-five years after this Chicago YMCA meeting, progressive evangelicals have reaffirmed the Declaration.  Here is a taste of “The Chicago Invitation: Diverse Evangelicals Continue the Journey”:

As diverse evangelicals, our faith moves us to confess and lament that we have often fallen short of the biblical values and commitments proclaimed in the gospel and affirmed in the 1973 Declaration. In addition to the 1973 Declaration, many diverse evangelicals, including women, African-American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and Indigenous leaders, have put out strong statements that have often been ignored. Millions of people, especially younger believers, have left the faith during a time in which evangelicalism has become increasingly partisan and politicized. People on both sides of the political aisle have demonized those who disagree with us and failed to love both our neighbors and our “enemies,” as Jesus instructs us to do. We should not be captive to any political party, because our allegiance belongs to Christ. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we believe the church is “called to be the conscience of the state, not the master or the servant of the state.”

Affirming the 1973 Declaration, as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we recommit to an evangelical faith that follows Jesus’ example of living and sharing a gospel that always proclaims good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. (Luke 4: 18-19)

We recommit to a biblical justice that demonstrates the reign of God as we strive for abundant life for all God’s children, which must include combating economic inequality and exploitation.

We recommit to more faithfully and courageously follow Jesus, who affirmed the sacredness and dignity of all human life.

Building on the 1973 Declaration as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we also commit to love and protect all people—including life at every stage, people of color, women, Indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people, people who are living with disabilities or mental health issues, poor and impoverished people, and each one who is marginalized, hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-46)

We commit to care for and protect the earth as God’s creation.

We commit to resisting all manifestations of racism, white nationalism, and any forms of bigotry—all of which are sins against God.

We commit to resisting patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and any form of sexism and to always affirm the dignity, voices, and leadership of women.

We commit to defend the dignity and rights of all people, particularly as we celebrate and embrace the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in our nation and churches.

Signers include  Ruth Bentley (1973 signer), Tony Campolo, Sharon Gallagher (1973 signer), Shane Claiborne, Ruth Padilla-DeBorst,  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (1973 signer), Lisa Sharon Harper, Joel Hunter, David Moberg (1973 signer), William Pannell (1973 signer), Richard Pierard (1973 signer), Ronald Sider (1973 signer), Andrea Smith, Jim Wallis (1973 signer), Barbara Williams-Skinner, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Read the entire statement here.  Jim Wallis discusses the statement here.

I have a hard time keeping track of all these religious “declarations,” but I took note of this one because of its connection to the historic 1973 meeting.

Tara Isabella Burton Reviews *The Trump Prophecy*

 

Trump Prophecy

Some of you may recall our posts about The Trump Prophecy, an evangelical movie about a fireman who prophesied the election of Donald Trump.  Students at Liberty University produced the film.

VOX reporter Tara Isabella Burton saw the movie.  Here is a taste of her review:

But The Trump Prophecy is more than a feel-good, low-budget movie. It’s the purest distillation of pro-Trump Christian nationalism: the insidious doctrine that implicitly links American patriotism and American exceptionalism with (white) evangelical Christianity.

Everything about The Trump Prophecy— from its subject matter, to the way it’s shot, to the little details scattered through the movie’s (often interminable) scenes of domestic life — is designed not just to legitimize Donald Trump as a evangelical-approved president but to promulgate an even more wide-ranging — and dangerous — idea.

The Trump Prophecy doesn’t just want you to believe that God approves of Donald Trump. It wants you to believe that submission to (conservative) political authority and submission to God are one and the same. In the film’s theology, resisting the authority of a sitting president — or, at least, this sitting president — is conflated with resisting God himself.

David Barton, the Christian Right GOP activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda, also appears in the movie. Here is Burton again:

An inexplicable 30-odd minute “interview” segment at the end of the film features interviews with controversial evangelical historian David Barton (whose books champion the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation), Wallnau, former US Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and other prominent evangelical figures.

Read the rest of the review here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Headed to the Senate Building

50368-capitol-hill-4

On Wednesday morning, October 10, I will be on Capitol Hill (Dirksen Senate building) to speak to about 100 evangelical leaders gathered for the National Association of Evangelicals’ annual “Washington Briefing.”

The NAE leadership has asked me to talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The event is not open to the public, but I can announce that I will be sharing the day with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Mark Green, Nathan Gonzalez, Shirley Hoogstra, Ali Noorani, Sen. James Lankford, Brian Walsh, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Sen. Marco Rubio, Stephanie Summers, and Os Guinness.

Stay tuned.

White Evangelicals and the New Marist Poll

Blasey

Here are some of the findings:

  • 72% of white evangelicals approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president (and 44% “strongly approve).
  • 71% of white evangelicals say that they will vote for a Republican in the 2018 midterms.
  • 58% of white evangelicals say that they are likely to vote for a congressional candidate in November 2018 who supports the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (27% of white evangelicals say that the confirmation of Kavanaugh will not make any difference in how they vote in November 2018).
  • 56% of white evangelicals have a “favorable impression” of Brett Kavanaugh. (31% are either “unsure” or have “never heard” of Kavanaugh).
  • Only 9% of white evangelicals have a “favorable impression” of Christine Blasey Ford.  59% of white evangelicals are “unsure” of her or have “never heard” of her.
  • 51% of white evangelicals have been following the Kavanaugh news coverage “very closely” or “closely.”
  • If Kavanaugh did commit the acts that Christine Blasey Ford said that he did, 48% of white evangelicals would still support his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
  • Only 14% of white evangelicals think Christine Blasey Ford told the truth about what happened at the party in high school.  41% are “not sure” who to believe.
  • 64% of white evangelicals support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

Quote of the Day

Dante

Liberty University English professor and author Karen Swallow Prior on the Kavanaugh nomination and the Blasey Ford accusations:

“I don’t expect we will ever know the truth about what did or did not happen. But as an evangelical Christian, I am convinced Dante himself could not have devised a more fitting circle of hell for my faith community than the one in which we find ourselves: being destroyed from the inside out by the sexual sin we spent decades pointing out everywhere but in our own house. For us, this is the real trial.”

Source

VOX on Kaepernick, Nike, and an Alabama Pastor with Scissors

Nike

Another well-written and researched piece by Tara Isabella Burton.  Here is a taste:

Pastor Mack Morris wanted to take a stand. Preaching in front of his Mobile, Alabama, congregation on Sunday morning, positioned just to the left of an American flag, he declaredthat he was sick and tired of the way clothing brand Nike had, in his view, disrespected America and its people.

“The first pair of jogging shoes I wore were Nike jogging shoes,” he told his congregation, “That was in the early ’80s. I’ve been wearing Nike jogging shoes since 1980. I got news for you. I’ve bought my last pair of Nike shoes.” He produced two branded items — a Nike wristband and a headband. Then he cut them up right there at the pulpit.

His audience’s response? Raucous applause.

Morris’s actions are part of a larger trend among conservatives in recent weeks who have been destroying Nike products to protest its selection of controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who famously knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality — in its latest ad campaign. For Kaepernick’s critics, including President Donald Trump, his refusal to stand for the national anthem is evidence that he lacks respect for the American flag, and more broadly, for America itself.

Read the entire piece here.  I was happy to help her with the piece:

John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania and author of Believe Me: the Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, told Vox in a telephone interview on Thursday that Morris’s actions represented a combination of two elements. The first, he said, was “conservative evangelicals’ commitment to the idea that America is a Christian nation, and that somehow the American flag not only symbolizes generic nationalism but that the nation was founded by God, that it’s a nation created by God. So [people think], how dare Colin Kaepernick take a knee.”

Secondly, he said, “Christian nationalism has always been connected with whiteness. It has always been about [the idea of] America’s founding by white Christians.”

These ideas, Fea said, have existed throughout American history. But Donald Trump’s campaign and election have them to the fore. Furthermore, he said, we’re seeing an unprecedented relationship between the president and the evangelical religious establishment, in which pastors take “marching orders” from Trump’s own discourse.

“So you now have Baptist pastors in the South in essence taking their cues from the president of the United States … and not from Biblical ideas,” Fea said.

He argued that there was a direct trickle-down effect from Trump’s tweets to church pews. Trump’s relentless focus on Kaepernick made his protest into a national controversy. White evangelicals, in turn, followed Trump’s lead, treating Kaepernick’s protest as a direct affront to the sanctity of an (implicitly Christian) America.

Fea said that the Kaepernick case is specifically about ideology, not theology. After all, he said, the Bible says nothing about flags or protests.

*The Atlantic* on Evangelical Superstar Beth Moore

Beth Moore

Beth Moore is a rock star in the evangelical world.  And she is an outspoken critic of Donald Trump.

Emma Green of The Atlantic has a great piece on Moore and her criticism of sexism in the evangelical community.  Here is a taste:

Above all, what women seem to want from Moore is to be seen. Her work is mostly about drying tears and praying through daily suffering and struggle. In the public imagination, evangelicalism has become synonymous with political activism. But inside the evangelical world, many people are looking for something simpler: A community. A prayer. Hope.

Many of these same women have been put off by Moore’s political turn, which was not in evidence onstage that night. Even those who might disdain Trump see her outspokenness as divisive and inappropriate for a Bible teacher. “I don’t think this is the avenue for political discussions,” said Shelly, 56. “I think it should stay focused on God.”

Moore believes she is focused on God. The target of her scorn is an evangelical culture that downplays the voices and experiences of women. Her objective is not to evict Trump from the White House, but to clear the cultural rot in the house of God.

Moore has not become a liberal, or even a feminist. She’s trying to help protect the movement she has always loved but that hasn’t always loved her back—at least, not in the fullness of who she is. This mission has cost her, personally and professionally, but she told me her only regret is that she’d let others dictate what her place in the community should be: “What I feel a little sorry for, looking back over my shoulder, is how often I apologized for being there.” She told me to note that she had a smile on her face. It was what she said during the most painful moments in our conversations.

Read the entire piece here.

Colin Kaepernick’s Christian Faith?

God tattoos

Many on the Christian Right despise Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. His decision to kneel before the American flag was a form of protest against systemic racism in America.

Recently a reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog asked me check out the “Personal Life” section of Kaepernick’s Wikipedia page.  Here is what I found:

Kaepernick was baptized Methodistconfirmed Lutheran, and attended a Baptist church during his college years.[117] Kaepernick spoke about his faith saying, “My faith is the basis from where my game comes from. I’ve been very blessed to have the talent to play the game that I do and be successful at it. I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field. I think if you go out and try to do that, no matter what you do on the field, you can be happy about what you did.”[118]

Kaepernick has multiple tattoos. His right arm features a scroll with the Bible verse Psalm 18:39 written on it. Tattooed under the scroll are praying hands with the phrase “To God The Glory” written on them. To the left of both the scroll and praying hands is the word “Faith” written vertically. His left arm features a Christian cross with the words “Heaven Sent” on it referring to Jesus. Written above and below the cross is the phrase “God Will Guide Me”. Written to the left and right of the cross is the Bible verse Psalm 27:3. His chest features the phrase “Against All Odds” and artwork around it that represents “inner strength, spiritual growth, and humility”. His back features a mural of angels against demons.[119][120][121] Near the end of the 2012 NFL season, Kaepernick’s signature touchdown celebration involved flexing and kissing the bicep of his right arm. Kaepernick says he kisses his “Faith”, “To God The Glory”, and Psalm 18:39 tattoos and the reason he does the celebration is because “God has brought me this far. He has laid out a phenomenal path for me. And I can’t do anything but thank Him.”[119]

I don’t know the current state of Kaepernick’s spiritual life or how he currently understands his religious identity (he girlfriend, Nessa Diab, is Muslim), but all of this sounds pretty evangelical to me.  This sounds like a job for my Messiah College colleague Paul Putz, an expert on the history of sports and Christianity.

If the Wikipedia page (you can follow the footnotes through the links) is correct, would this change the minds of Kaepernick’s Christian Right critics?  Would School of the Ozarks consider renegotiating their contract with Nike?  Would this guy put his scissors away?  Probably not, but if Kaepernick is a “brother in Christ” it would make it a bit more difficult to ostracize him.

The Author’s Corner with Donald Akenson

51i8JUNVXDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Donald Akenson is Douglas Professor of Canadian and Colonial History at Queen’s University. This interview is based on his new book Exporting the Rapture: John Nelson Darby and the Victorian Conquest of North-American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Exporting the Rapture?

DA: This is the second volume in my three-volume set on where and how radical apocalyptic millennialism was built into its central position in American conservative evangelicalism. The first volume, Discovering the End of Time was published in 2016 by McGill-Queens University Press.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Exporting the Rapture?

DA: The big argument is that the ideological core of American evangelicalism was formed overseas and in the period 1860ff began to be energetically imported into North America. Surprisingly, the germinal ground was southern Ireland in the 1820s and thereafter. The entry point was the Great Lakes Basin and the subsequent process was equally a matter of Canadian and US assimilation of imported concepts. That is simple to state, but the process was anything but linear.

JF: Why do we need to read Exporting the Rapture?

DA: Mostly to help us escape the mortmain of American Exceptionalism, which, despite the heroic efforts of some fine historians, too frequently comes forth as American Parochialism.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DA: I am an historian of Ireland, and of the Second British Empire and of the diasporas that had their origin in the British Isles. For a long time now, I have been arguing that in diaspora studies religion not only counts, it counts a great deal—despite its being marginalized by most historians of physical migration and by their counterparts in the field of cultural studies.

JF: What is your next project?

DA: To complete the third volume of the study and to bring the story up to the first decade of the twentieth century, when the new apocalyptic evangelicalism won.

JF: Thanks, Donald!

Michael Gerson and John MacArthur on “Social Justice”

MacArthur

In case you haven’t been following this, John MacArthur, a pastor of a large megachurch in California, has issued a “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.”  Here is my summary of the statement:

  • The Bible is inerrant and intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are inconsistent with biblical teaching.
  •  All human beings are created in the image of God.  As a result, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, or sex neither “negates or contributes” to an individual’s worth.
  • Christians must pursue justice. Society is responsible for correcting injustices “imposed through cultural prejudice.”  Christians cannot “live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.”
  • Obligations that do not “arise from God’s commandments” cannot be “legitimately imposed on Christians as prescriptions for righteous living.”
  • All human beings, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, or sex, are sinners in need of salvation.  This also applies to “systems” and “institutions.”  People must repent of individual sins and “one’s ethnicity” does not “establish a connection to any particular sin.”
  • The pursuit of justice is important, but only a belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including his virgin birth, atoning death, and bodily resurrection, will save one’s soul.
  • Those who embrace the Gospel are all equal before God regardless of “age, ethnicity, or sex.
  • The church should proclaim the Gospel, teach “sound doctrine,” and administer the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  It should not be involved in “political or social activism.”
  • Marriage is between a man and a woman.  Homosexuality is sin.  Singleness is a “noble” calling.  “Gay Christian” is not a “legitimate biblical category.”
  • Complementarianism.  God has “designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles.”
  • “Race” is not a “biblical category.”  It is a “social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority.” Christians should not segregate themselves into racial groups or regard “racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ.”  Any teaching that “encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression” is unbiblical.
  • Deficiencies in culture must be overcome “through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth.”
  • Racism is sin and must be condemned “by all who would honor the image of God in all people.”   “Racial sin” can “subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory.” “Systemic racism” is incompatible with evangelical belief.  Lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are not as vital “to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of the scriptures.” Such lectures “inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.”

I was actually surprised by just how much I agreed with in this statement.  (I expected to agree with none of it, but some of it is pretty good evangelical theology).

But the statement is also ignorant of the historic and current state of race-relations in the United States and the role that white men and women played in propagating racism.  It fails to show any empathy for people of color who lived through such discrimination.  (A reference to “weeping with those who weep” in the “race/ethnicity” section is little more than a throw-away line).  As one evangelical commentator noted, “this document could have been signed by the antebellum slaveowners.”

The statement often reads like an early 20th-century fundamentalist critique of the Social Gospel.  It  assumes that the pursuing “a biblical standard of righteousness” has nothing to do with engaging social sins.

Michael Gerson has commented on MacArthur’s statement in his recent Washington Post column.  Here is a taste:

By way of background, it seems that this statement was created in outraged response to another group of evangelicals — the Gospel Coalition — that held a conference on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. MacArthur clearly wants to paint the participants — including prominent pastors Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile and John Piper — as liberals at risk of heresy.

Where to start a response? First, there is the matter of judgment. MacArthur surveys the evangelical movement in 2018 — increasingly discredited by rank hypocrisy and close ties to an angry, ethno-nationalist political movement — and concludes that its main problem is too much … social justice. It is a sad case of complete spiritual blindness.

Second, there is a matter of history. Elsewhere MacArthur complains that evangelicals have a “newfound obsession” with social justice. This could only be claimed by someone who knows nothing of the evangelical story. In the 19th century, northern evangelicalism was generally viewed as inseparable from social activism. Evangelist Charles Finney insisted that “the loss of interest in benevolent enterprises” was usually evidence of a “backslidden heart.” Among these enterprises Finney listed good government, temperance reform, the abolition of slavery and relief for the poor. “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.”

But most damaging is the MacArthur statement’s position on racial matters. What could a group of largely white evangelicals, many of them southerners, possibly mean by criticizing “racial vainglory”? Is it vanity to praise the unbroken spirit of Africans in America during more than four centuries of vicious oppression, which was often blessed by elements of the Christian church? Is it vanity to recognize the redemptive role played by African-American Christianity in calling our nation to the highest ideals of its founding?

Read the rest of Gerson’s column here.

Here are few more comments:

  • Thirteen men are listed as “initial signers” of the document.  Except for MacArthur, I do not recognize any of their names.  In fact, I hesitated to even write about this story.  It is a fringe element of evangelicalism.  I was surprised Gerson devoted a column to it.
  • At the time I am writing this, nearly 7000 people have signed this statement, most of them are men.
  • Back in the 1980s, MacArthur was a champion of something called “Lordship Salvation.”  This was the idea that saving faith should be accompanied by the “saved” person making Jesus “the Lord of his or her life.”  In other words, a true convert will manifest his or her newfound salvation in good works (presumably acts of social justice would be part of these “good works”).  MacArthur was challenging the idea of so-called “cheap grace” or, more officially, “Free Grace Theology.”  This was the idea, popularized by some professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, that a person was saved by believing in the Gospel alone.  In this view, one could accept Jesus as “Savior” without making him “Lord,” or pursuing a life of discipleship.  Those who embrace Free Grace Theology believe that good works are essential to the Christian life, but only intellectual assent or belief will save one’s soul from hell.  The defenders of this view taught that Lordship Salvation, as championed by MacArthur in a book titled The Gospel According to Jesus, was a form of “salvation by works.”  So how does MacArthur reconcile his belief in “Lordship Salvation” with his rejection of social justice?  Isn’t the pursuit of social justice part of pursuing a life of discipleship?  (Wow–I haven’t thought about this stuff in a while!)

Some Context on the Fresno Pacific University Dust-Up

Fresno Pacific

Last week we did a post on Fresno Pacific University‘s decision to demote its seminary president and fire three faculty members.  Read it here (along with a good comment from “Jason”).

Over at Mennonite World Review, Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz (aka “The Pietist Schoolman”) provides some additional context.   Here is a taste:

The seminary website says that this particular master’s program “includes instruction from strategic, global Anabaptist leaders and is grounded in the Anabaptist tradition,” and its students come from MB, Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. But Huber noted that the program was launched two years ago “to be uniquely evangelical and Anabaptist,” with some pastor-professors straddling those two worlds.

For example, Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in the Minnesota Twin Cities, featured prominently in the 2012 book, The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism. As I noted in a 2013 post, editors Jared Burkholder and David Cramer included Boyd among a “growing number of evangelical leaders [to] have found in Anabaptism a robust alternative to the program of political involvement employed by the leaders of the Religious Right within their midst.”

Boyd’s critique of Christian nationalism, influenced by Anabaptist scholars like John Howard Yoder, was noted as a potential source of tension with the FPU administration and MB denominational leaders. (And he complained to MWR that the lack of conversation with him surrounding the decisions was “just not very Anabaptist.”) But as far as I can tell from the MWR story, another theological dispute seems to have been more important — one that has echoes in my own institution’s history.

Most commonly known as open theism, Boyd defined his “open view of the future” in an interview with Rachel Held Evans as

the view that the future is partly comprised of possibilities and is therefore known by God as partly comprised of possibilities… the open view of the future holds that God chose to create a cosmos that is populated with free agents… While God can decide to pre-settle whatever aspects of the future he wishes, to the degree that he has given agents freedom, God has chosen to leave the future open, as a domain of possibilities, for agents to resolve with their free choices. This view obviously conflicts with the understanding of the future that has been espoused by classical theologians, for the traditional view is that God foreknows from all eternity the future exclusively as a domain of exhaustively definite facts.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.

Evangelicals Come to Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Wait–I thought evangelicals were racists and white supremacists?

Here is a taste of Josh Shepherd’s piece at Christianity Today:

Rising 825 feet over the skyline of Atlanta, Stone Mountain is the most-visited destination in the state of Georgia. On its north face, a carving in the granite wall depicts three figures central to the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.

Against this backdrop, observers might have puzzled over the scene unfolding on a recent Saturday at the top of the monument. An ethnically diverse crowd of more than 3,000 people, the majority under age 30, sang as a full rock band led the crowd in Christian praise songs.

Nearly all lifted their hands, shouted, and even danced as pop-rock worship music blasted from speakers. Then a black man in a bright red shirt with white letters reading Reconcile took the mic.

“Heaven is among us,” said Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, a young pastor from Ferguson, Missouri. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Thomas was followed by civil rights leader John Perkins, who was followed by apologies from Christian leaders to two Jewish leaders for the history of Christian anti-Semitism, who were followed by declarations of forgiveness for Dylann Roof by family members of Charleston church shooting victims. And this was all in the first 150 minutes.

Read the rest here.

More Evangelical Nostalgia

Metaxas at PartyOver at NBC News, Christian author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove reminds us, as I did extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, that white evangelicals are very nostalgic people.

Here is a taste:

Trump’s use of nostalgia has helped maintain connections between the Trump administration and a conservative faith community shaped by decades of culture wars. The religious right, which traditionally emphasized “family values,” has nonetheless lined up to support a thrice-married, Casino-owning playboy who flaunts morality and marital fidelity. When asked, Trump’s religious backers consistently point to his support for their issues. But the issues that the religious right taught white evangelicals to focus do not spring from a Biblical concern for widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. They are instead the white cultural values of order, respect for authority and traditional gender roles.

Prophetic stands and moral outrage are well and good.  I respect Wilson-Hartgrove and others.

But if Christians want to do something to end the nostalgic longings of white evangelicals, they need to consider the long view.  A false view of American history, propagated by the likes of David Barton and Eric Metaxas, is the foundation of this nostalgia-fueled politics.  We must do better at teaching Christians about American history, the history of the Christianity, and historical ways of thinking about the past.  We must throw our money behind these efforts.  If we do not, we will be fighting these battles against evangelical nostalgia for a long, long time.

Is Evangelicalism Primarily a Political Movement?

latin evangelicals

No, it is not. I think John Turner is correct in his recent piece at The Anxious Bench blog.

Here is a taste:

John Fea, in what has become a must-read age-of-Trump blog about American religion, quotes from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters in a recent post:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of [the cause] … Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours-and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours.

It’s possible that I am entirely misreading the present climate, but if one did not know anything about religion in the United States and merely relied on media coverage of contemporary politics, one would presume that evangelicalism is a political movement. A HUGE majority of evangelicals typically vote Republican, and an even HUGER majority voted for Donald Trump (just about the least Christian major-party nominee since … perhaps Richard Nixon?). [As an aside, it’s worth noting that Australia now has an openly evangelical prime minister]. The relationship between Trump and a small number of men and women whom John Fea terms “court evangelicals” receives considerable attention, as has the fact that large majorities of evangelicals support Trump’s policies on matters such as immigration. And this week President Trump hosted a dinner for his high-profile evangelicals supporters at the White House. Sadly, my invitation got lost in the mail.

Evangelicalism is first and foremost a religious movement.  It is a movement that celebrates the centrality of the cross, the born-again experience, evangelism, service, and the inspiration of the Bible.  Yes, there are American churches that bring politics into the pulpit, but the majority of evangelical churches do not dwell on politics.  Most clergy do not think it is a good idea to preach on political themes or endorse candidates.  I have yet to find an evangelical church with a “politics ministry.”

Evangelical congregations are primarily concerned about living holy lives of faith–a vertical relationship with God.  When most evangelicals think about moving beyond the walls of church, they think primarily in terms of missionary activity, serving neighbors in local communities, caring for the vulnerable, feeding the poor, and exemplifying acts of compassion.  I would even argue that this is true of evangelical churches and ministries run by court evangelicals such as Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and others.

Because the day-to-day acts of compassion and love performed by evangelicals rarely make headlines, the general public only sees politics.  And because many evangelicals have not thought deeply about political engagement, when they do try to bring their faith into the public square it usually results in a big mess.

All of this reminds me of the generation of early American historians who tried to make connections between the First Great Awakening and the American Revolution.  Rather than interpreting the First Great Awakening as a religious movement, many historians, driven by their Whig sensibilities, seemed to suggest that this deeply spiritual movement was only useful for what it told us about the coming of American independence.  In the process, they failed to understand this important historical event.

Today, when we define evangelicals or evangelicalism in a solely political way, we get a  very limited understanding of what the movement is all about.  Turner’s post is a good reminder of what really happens in evangelical congregations and para-church ministries.

A Conservative Writer Describes Attacks on His Multiracial Family

French

David French

And the attacks are coming from the Right and the Left.  Here is a taste of David French‘s powerful piece at The Atlantic: America Soured on My Multiracial Family“:

But hovering just outside the frame—and sometimes intruding directly into our lives—is a disturbing reality. There are people who hate that our family exists. Actual racists loathe the idea of white parents raising a black child, and ideological arguments about identity raise questions about whether a white family’s love can harm a child of a different race. And, sometimes, people even question whether adoptive parents truly love their children, claiming that parents adopt to “virtue signal” or simply to ostentatiously demonstrate their open-mindedness.

Read the entire piece here.

The Millennial Evangelicals

millennials

While on the road speaking about evangelicals and Donald Trump, I am often asked if support for Trump among evangelicals is a generational phenomenon.

The average Donald Trump voter was 57.  I don’t know the age of the average evangelical Trump voter, but I think it is safe to say that many of them, if not most of them, learned how to merge faith and politics in the 1980s under the influence of Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, and the Christian Right.  This means that abortion, marriage, and the Supreme Court are all that matters when one enters the voting booth.

Most of the younger evangelicals I know (My daughters are 20 and 17 and I teach a lot of evangelical students) do not seem to be following the Christian Right playbook.  They are pro-life on abortion, but they extend their pro-life convictions to issues such as climate change, immigration, the death penalty, care for the poor, universal health care, and other social justice issues.  Many of them are open to same-sex marriage.

Over at The New Yorker, writer Eliza Griswold has a piece on the millennial evangelicals.  Here is a taste:

For younger evangelicals, the political fights waged by previous generations no longer hold the sway they once did. Many told me that their focus in reading the Bible is on broader questions, such as, How shall I live? “Young evangelicals don’t have any skin in the game when it comes to fights over Biblical literalism,” Jonathan Merritt, the author of the recently published “Learning to Speak God from Scratch,” told me. Merritt, a journalist who writes for The Atlantic and the son of James Merritt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is accustomed to acting as a translator between the faith-based and secular worlds.

He calls for Christians to stop relying on old, culturally conservative terms, like “lost,” to define people who have different beliefs from theirs, and invites his fellow-evangelicals to reconsider the feminine aspect of God. After all, being “born again” invokes feminine imagery: only mothers can give birth to children, and yet “born again” Christians often consider God solely masculine. Merritt’s most controversial argument revolves around homosexuality—a word in traditional evangelical circles often encoded by “brokenness.” According to P.R.R.I., fifty-three per cent of evangelicals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine now support same-sex marriage, but the theological debate over homosexuality is still a fraught one. Merritt was outed in 2012 after having a homosexual encounter with a gay blogger. He doesn’t believe, however, that being called “broken” defines his complex sexual orientation or that of thousands of other Christians like him. “Being called ‘broken’ is a source of shame,” Merritt said. It implies that something needs fixing when, Merritt argues, it doesn’t.

Read the entire piece here.