Peter Wehner Interviews Tim Keller at *The Atlantic*

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Two evangelical Christians talk about faith, reason, and politics at, of all places, The Atlantic.   The Christian Right claims that the “secular media” does not respect people of faith, but stories like this remind me that such media outlets are more open to discussing issues of Christian faith than they were two decades ago.

Here is a taste of Wehner‘s piece on his conversation with Keller:

I asked Keller about the relationship of the Church, and in particular evangelicalism, to politics. The upshot of Keller’s position is that whereas individual Christians should be engaged in the political realm, the Bible makes it impossible as a Church to hitch your wagon to one political party, especially in these times. “For Christians just to completely hook up with one party or another is really idolatry,” Keller said. “It’s also reducing the Gospel to a political agenda.” (He pointed me to an address by Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, called “The Political Captivity of the Faithful,” with which he concurs.)

Keller noted that this danger isn’t new. As is his wont, he cited a book to help me more fully understand his argument—H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism, which holds that denominationalism is primarily a social phenomenon that tends to be captured by different political and social classes. Keller observed that because Christianity properly understood is not a legalistic religion—“there is no New Testament Book of Leviticus,” he told me—it can be a part of almost any culture. In that sense, it’s a fairly flexible faith. “Christians are always more incarnate in the culture—and the danger of that is that they get captured by it. That’s always been a problem,” he said. There’s ever the danger of “cultural and political captivity.”

When I pressed the point further, Keller admitted he believes that “most Christians are just nowhere nearly as deeply immersed in the scripture and in theology as they are in their respective social-media bubbles and News Feed bubbles. To be honest, I think the ‘woke’ evangelicals are just much more influenced by MSNBC and liberal Twitter. The conservative Christians are much more influenced by Fox News and their particular loops. And they’re [both] living in those things eight to 10 hours a day. They go to church once a week, and they’re just not immersed in the kind of biblical theological study that would nuance that stuff.” Too often, he believes, there’s no relationship between a proper Christian ethic and the way it translates into political and cultural engagement. It’s not the doctrine that’s at fault, Keller would argue; it’s the way people are taught and interpret it. It’s a failure of imagination and hermeneutics.

Read the entire piece here.

Randall Balmer on the “Other Evangelicals”

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Jim Wallis of Sojourners

In his recent op-ed at the Concord Monitor, Dartmouth College scholar of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer reminds us that not all evangelicals were part of the 81% who supported Donald Trump in 2016.  Here is a taste of “The Other Evangelicals“:

The emergence of the Religious Right was surely a turning point – a sharp and unmistakable turn to the right – but it wasn’t inevitable. The 1970s, in fact, saw a remarkable resurgence of progressive evangelicalism, a version of the movement consistent with the legacy of 19th-century evangelicals.

Two geographical areas, northern Illinois and the mainline of Philadelphia, served as the focus for progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s. In the greater Philadelphia area, Tony Campolo, a sociologist at Eastern College (now Eastern University), and Ronald Sider, a theologian at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary), led the charge.

Campolo was (and remains) a tireless advocate for progressive evangelical values; he is one of the founding members of an organization called Red Letter Christians, which seeks to remind the faithful to heed the teachings of Jesus.

Sider was founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of a bestselling book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, published in 1977.

The other locus of progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s was Deerfield, in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. There, Jim Wallis, a seminary student, together with his friends at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, formed a community in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago and began publishing a tabloid called the Post American. When the group relocated to Washington, D.C., in 1975, they took the name Sojourners.

On the same Deerfield campus, a cohort of young faculty at Trinity College, led by Douglas Frank, David Schlafer and Nancy Hardesty, began challenging their students to question the morality of the war in Vietnam and to take seriously both the teachings of Jesus and the example of 19th-century evangelicalism. I was one of those students. We learned about Jesus’s concern for the poor. We started to think about protecting the environment and defending people of color. We debated how to pursue justice.

Read the entire piece here

Theologian N.T. Wright on the State of the American Church

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Emma Green of The Atlantic interviews New Testament scholar N.T. Wright about the American church.  Here is a taste:

Emma Green: Do you worry that the strong association between Christianity and politics in the United States—and specifically the alignment between the religious right, evangelicals, and the Republican Party—will permanently shape the image of Christianity?

N. T. Wright: Part of the problem here is the word evangelical. I know a lot of people who have basically abandoned it since the whole [Donald] Trump phenomenon.

In England, people are a bit embarrassed about the word. But I’ve taken the view that the word evangelical is far too good a word to let the crazy guys have it all to themselves, just like I think the word Catholic is far too good a word for the Romans to keep it all to themselves. And while we’re at it, the word liberal is too good a word for the skeptics to have it all for themselves. It stands for freedom of thought and exploration.

Everything gets bundled up together, whether it’s abortion or gun rights or homosexuality or whatever. All issues are seen as either you’re on that side, and it’s the whole package, or you’re on this side, and it’s the whole package.

Read the rest here.

RNS Covers the Retirement of National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson

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Here is a taste of Adelle Banks’s piece at Religion News Service:

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Leith Anderson is a fan of the word “evangelical” and the Christians who claim that name.

But he knows the term may have outlived its usefulness in a polarized country where evangelical has often become a synonym for conservative Republican.

“I like the word ‘evangelical.’ I would like it to stand for what I think it has always stood for,” the retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals said in a recent (Nov. 19) interview. “But if people want to abandon the term, let them abandon the term. That’s really not what matters. What really matters is their faith and their practice.”

Anderson, who has been NAE president since 2006, has worked to help people understand the diversity of what and who evangelicals are. He’s done so in the face of public polls showing that “white evangelicals” are among the most ardent supporters of President Donald Trump and his policies.

The longtime pastor wants evangelicals to be defined by their faith — not their politics.

“I want the standard to be what the Bible teaches, not what the polls report,” he said.

John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College, said Anderson has successfully balanced the NAE’s stances — advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, welcoming refugees and opposing racism while supporting traditional marriage and opposing abortion.

But Anderson, whom Fea called a “quiet spokesman” with a pastoral heart, has been overshadowed by fellow evangelicals Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. Those two are often seen as public faces of evangelicals and more likely to be quoted in the media.

“It’s a very awkward place,” said Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” “It doesn’t fit well in talk radio or the talking heads screaming at each other on cable news.”

Read the rest here.

Ronald Sider on Abortion

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Ronald Sider is a veteran of the evangelical left.  He is a longtime professor of theology at Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action.  He is best known for his 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.  I am also a fan of his book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Ron will not remember this, but we first met in the late 1990s when he spoke at The Stony Brook School, an evangelical boarding school on Long Island.  Later, he asked me to present a paper on the recent history of evangelical political engagement at a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue on faith and politics at Georgetown University  That piece was eventually published as “A Brief History of Modern Evangelical Social Engagement” in Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good: A Dialogue in a Historic Convergence.

In a recent blog post, Sider chides his fellow Democrats for failing to take seriously the reduction of abortion in the United States.  Here is a taste:

Even if you think (as I do) that on a majority of issues, Democratic proposals (e.g.,  on racial and and economic justice, healthcare, taxes, climate change) are closer to a biblical vision than that of Republicans, still the ever increasing refusal of Democrats to take seriously the pro-life concerns of Christians and others is a problem.

Former President Bill Clinton told a good friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania (and therefore the presidency) was because of her radical stand on abortion. In 2008 when she ran for the Democratic nomination, she said abortion should be” legal, safe and rare”. In 2016, she no longer said it should be rare. The head of the Democratic National Committee recently told another good friend of mine that in  his circles, one did not dare even  use the word  “reduction” when talking about abortion.

For years a number of congressional Democrats supported the Hyde amendment which prevented government using our tax dollars to fund abortions. That action respected the beliefs of pro-life people. But Democrats no longer support that provision.

There  used to be dozens of  pro-life Democrats in the US Congress who supported  some restrictions on abortion. Today only five are left.

The powerful, well-funded national association of Democratic state attorneys-general has recently announced that they will refuse to endorse anyone who does not support abortion and favor expanding abortion services. In the first national debate for Democratic candidates for president, one questioner asked if there was any circumstance where abortion should be restricted. Not a single Democratic candidate named any restriction.

This rigidity is politically foolish. The Gallup Paul repeatedly has shown that about 25% of Americans think abortion should never be legal.  25% think it should be legal in every situation. And about 50% think abortion should be legal ONLY in certain circumstances. 

One would think the Democrats would ponder the fact that Democrats very recently won the race to be governor in two very conservative states ( West Virginia and Louisiana) where Donald Trump won by  huge margins in 2016. And both successful Democratic governors endorsed a pro-life agenda that would place some restrictions on abortion.

Former Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp is right; “There are very principled people who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue  [abortion] for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary”(New York Times, Nov. 18, p. A11). 

And politically stupid!

Read the entire piece here.

Sider echoes (or maybe I echoed him!) my argument about Hillary Clinton in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In that book I called for a reduction in the number of abortions in America, but I also argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is probably not the best way of doing this.

Kate Bowler On Evangelical Women Celebrities

Bowler_3DHere is a taste of Amy Frykholm’s Christian Century interview with Duke Divinity School professor Kate Bowler, the author of The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities:

Evangelicals tend to be skeptical of women in formal positions of authority. Is celebrity a way of circumventing that dynamic?

Exploring that issue was the really fun part of the book. These women were a puzzle hidden in plain sight. These are women who by any logical account should not be as popular as they are. They are not theologically educated, and they are not encouraged to be on stage, so why are they there?

These women had to build their platforms extra-ecclesially. They had to find pulpit-adjacent places. Sometimes that involves parachurch ministries, like one focusing on a specific issue or a women’s ministry—something that is not threatening to the power structures and that is an extension of women’s previous dominance in the missionary movement.

Beth Moore is the most famous face of the Southern Baptist publishing arm. As evangelist and Bible teacher, she is a colossal money maker for her publisher, and she uses Twitter as her pulpit with tremendous success. Social media is very powerful in her world—it’s a way to reach an audience daily and weekly. Many women in this role have managed to skip a lot of the infrastructure and go directly to the crowd.

It is a delicate position because it is outside an institution. These women are not afforded any of the protections of an institution. If an institutional leader makes a mistake, the institution has a vested interest in protecting or rehabilitating them. You see this when there is a sex scandal in evangelical churches; the pastor is pretty quickly put on a rehabilitation tour. A woman without an institution is on her own. If she falls, she falls hard.

Southern Baptists want to adhere to a traditional approach to women in ministry, but they cannot square that demand with the number of women in their own tradition who are leading.

This is a country dominated by mega­churches. The concentration of people into these churches is astonishing. That means leadership is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. People want the male leader on stage to be “grounded,” and having a woman by his side confers emotional well-roundedness. It provides a kind of spiritual covering. She is credentialing him. Women in this role can become very powerful in their congregations. They have to figure out how to minister spiritually to all the women in the congregation. That gives women a job and a platform. This aspect of modern congregations makes it very difficult for women to be kept out of the pulpit.

Read the entire piece here.

“Who is an Evangelical?”: Thomas Kidd on NPR

Kidd who isI was listening to National Public Radio on my drive to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday and somewhere around Ann Arbor I heard Baylor historian Thomas Kidd talking about the definition of the word “evangelical.”  Kidd, of course, was discussing his new book Who Is an Evangelical: The History of a Movement in Crisis.

Here is a taste of what I heard:

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We’ve reached the point in the media where the word evangelical has lost a lot of its original meaning. Author Thomas Kidd points this out in his new book “Who Is An Evangelical?”

THOMAS KIDD: I think it is a sign of the politicization of evangelicalism that people who, say, don’t go to church would still be willing to say that they’re an evangelical. I think that signals that somehow, evangelical now is a fundamentally political term.

CORNISH: Thomas Kidd says prior to the mid-’70s, there wasn’t a box to check. But it was shortly after pollsters started actually asking voters about their religious affiliation that we saw the coalescing of a powerful political voting bloc.

KIDD: The transition moment has to be 1976…

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for president.

(APPLAUSE)

KIDD: …When one of the major parties nominates an outspoken evangelical, Jimmy Carter, for the Democrats…

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: All of us – our individual fates are linked.

KIDD: …As the presidential candidate and obviously eventually became president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: In that knowledge and in that spirit, together, as the Bible says, we can move mountains. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

KIDD: And one of the most important developments that comes associated with that is that 1976 is the first year that the Gallup organization begins polling about whether people are evangelicals or born again. And it’s often not being asked about whether you’re an evangelical to see what your spiritual beliefs and practices are but to determine what your political behavior is.

Read or listen here.

Pro-Trump Evangelical: “When you look at the women who were literally scratching the doors of the Supreme Court building and pounding the doors, it was like someone having a tantrum when they couldn’t get their way…”

Witch trial

Michael Brown, a pro-Trump radio pundit, recently appeared on court evangelical Steven Strang‘s podcast and talked about the attempts to impeach Donald Trump .  The title of the podcast is “Are Demonic Spirits Influencing the Trump Impeachment Process.”  (I am not sure why Strang decided to frame his title in the form of a question because he and Brown clearly believe that this is the answer is “yes.”)

Here is Brown on the podcast:

When you look at the women who were literally scratching the doors of the Supreme Court building, and pounding the doors, it was like someone having a tantrum when they couldn’t get there way.  It’s one thing to feel passionate about an issue, it’s another thing to behave in that way.  I documented in [my book] Jezebel’s War With America…that you have to look at the forces that have come together from radical feminists to witches, even The New York Times saying we’ve reached “peak witch, asking when did everyone become a witch.  These are the same ones who are “hexing” Donald Trump and hexing the patriarchy…there is more going on here….

And this:

Bottom line we have to recognize we are in an intense spiritual battle…for decades now there has been a real push to destroy the very fabric of our culture, to uproot any Christian heritage and roots that we have.  It’s been very deep and very concerted.  You can see the most major shift from the sixties and thereafter and we are now reaping the very, very bad fruit of it.  So it’s going to come down to us getting really serious–believers who are searching their own hearts and their own lives.  Am I revived?  Have I lost my first love and left it?  Have I become part of the problem?  Am I compromised?…And then from there let’s be a positive influence on those around us.  Let’s help ignite unite a passion fire in others. And as believers get awakened to live for God, for the Gospel, then they’ll get awakened on social issues, cultural issues [and] start to stand up for what’s right.   But look, either we’re gonna be the generation that was known as the one that let the drag queens read to toddlers in libraries with the endorsement of the American Library Association, or we’ll be known as the generation that stood for what was right and recovered the foundations of the Gospel, and of family,  and of morality here in America.  It’s either or. We’re standing at a critical point in our history.

There are a lot of things that can be said about Brown’s thoughts.  As an evangelical Christian, I too believe in the kind of spiritual revival Brown is talking about here.  Brown seems to imply, in the context of this podcast on impeachment, that if only Christians would come alive spiritually they would see the light and naturally support the presidency of Donald Trump.

But what if the church needs to be revived for the purpose of opposing the sinful behavior that our current president represents?  What if Christians need to be revived so that they can see that they have jumped into bed with this man and, as a result, are damaging the witness of the Gospel?

As an early American historian, I was particularly struck by Brown’s reference to passion-filled women “scratching” at the door of the Supreme Court building.  Brown mentions “witches.”  He talks about women having “tantrums.”  Wow!  Is it just me or does this sound a lot like the most important “spiritual battle” of 17th-century New England–the Salem Witch Trials?

Brown says “there is more going on here.” This suggests that the impeachment of Donald Trump is a spiritual battle–a battle against the devil and his minions.  The same goes for his use of the word “forces” to describe the Democratic efforts to impeach the president.

I think it’s time to revisit a couple of good books on the Salem Witch Trials.

They are:

Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

Elizabeth Reis, Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England

These books show that women were often thought to be easily susceptible to the wiles of the devil because of their “weaker” nature.  Puritans believed that the devil possessed and inflicted women for the purpose of undermining the orderly Christian society they were trying to build in Massachusetts Bay.  When the devil inflicted women in this way, the Puritans described the women behaving in a manner similar to how Brown describes anti-Trump women above.

A Thoughtful Piece on the Meaning of “Evangelical”

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Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri

Jason Byasse‘s piece at Religion News Service gives me hope.  The theologian visited a few evangelical congregations in the Midwest and writes about what he found.

Here is a taste:

But on a visit to several evangelical churches in the heart of Red America not long ago, I found hope to think “evangelical” can mean something else instead.

In St. Joseph, Missouri, in the far west of the Show-Me state, where even Democrats tout their gun-packing bona fides, I visited the Word of Life Church. Pastor Brian Zahnd was once a charismatic TV preacher, but he’s much more Mennonite now, learning from historic peace-loving communities that peacemaking is better than televangelism. On Twitter, Zahnd seeks to disentangle evangelicalism from President Trump. “I don’t believe in conservativism; I don’t believe in progressivism. I believe in Jesus,” he wrote in one post.

The Sunday I was there, I saw him preaching with great ’60’s rock songs as his texts. The sermon that day was on Cat Stephens’ “Ride the Peace Train.” This is no hippie lullaby, he said, it’s a non-violent revolution, prophesied by Isaiah and inaugurated by Jesus.

Now whatever that is, it’s not Trumpism.

Read the entire piece here.

What Will American Religious Historians Say About the 2010s?

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Over at The Anxious Bench, historian Philip Jenkins asks, “what will future scholars of Christianity highlight when they write the history of the 2010s?  What tremors reshaped the landscape of faith?”

Here is part of Jenkins’s answer:

I would start with the papacy of Francis in the Roman Catholic church, with all that has meant for controversies within the church, and the struggles for an against reform.

Within the United States, I would include, for instance:

-The Rise of the Nones, people admitting no religious affiliation, and what that might mean for secularization trends.

-The 2016 election and the conflicts within evangelicalism: charges that white evangelicals follow conservative politics at the expense of religious principles. See: a great many posts at this blog by multiple authors.

-Growing calls for women’s leadership within many churches, especially among evangelicals. See: a great many posts at this blog by multiple authors.

-The establishment of same sex marriage as mainstream social orthodoxy (the Obergefell decision 2015), with all the actual and potential clashes that sets up for churches, and for individual conservative Christian believers.

-Activism and concern about climate issues and global warming becomes a leading cause for US churches.

Read the entire piece here.

In addition to Jenkins’s mention of women leadership, I would add the influence of the #MeToo movement in evangelical churches and denominations. (Bill Hybels, Paige Patterson, John Crist, etc.)

It also seems that white churches are coming to grips with questions of structural racism like never before.

North Carolina Evangelical Pastors in the Age of Trump

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Trump at a rally in North Carolina

Dana Ervin, a reporter with The Charlotte Observer, recently spoke with six white North Carolina megachurch pastors about the state of evangelical Christianity in the age of Trump.  They are concerned about their politicization of their congregations.

 

Here is a taste of Ervin’s piece:

Several pastors worried Christians think they must be Republicans or that they can only watch Fox News. Pointing out that both parties are flawed, some worried that making some political issues Christian or non-Christian does God’s kingdom a disservice.

But consensus broke down when asked about Donald Trump. One pastor believed Trump’s unlikely presidential win could represent the “mercy of God,” while another observed that Biblical Israel had been ruled by some evil kings: “Sometimes we get what we deserve.”

And while everyone agreed that Trump must be held to account if he’s broken the law, it became clear that many Christians will have a hard time coming to that conclusion. When asked specifically about Trump’s Ukraine call, one pastor immediately raised concerns about Biden’s son, as if those were a defense for any presidential malfeasance. Possible extortion by Mr. Trump seemed to be less serious than perjury by Bill Clinton. And even after Trump appointees testified to a quid pro quo, one pastor said the secrecy of the impeachment investigation prevented any conclusion.

Read the entire piece here.

Baptists Debate Evangelicalism

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Baylor historian Thomas Kidd, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, and Southern Baptist pastor Thabiti Anyabwile recently came together at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. to discuss American evangelical identity.

Tom Strode covered the event at Baptist Press.  Here is a taste:

The current crisis in evangelicalism, Kidd said, consists of multiple overlapping aspects, including:

— “One, confusion about the term.

— “Two, an impression that ‘evangelical’ may just mean white Republicans who consider themselves religious.

— “Three, a sense that political power may be the essential evangelical agenda.

— “And four, the inability of evangelicals of different ethnicities, especially whites and blacks, to agree on basic political questions.”

Moore said many people who do not attend or belong to a church “will nonetheless define themselves as rigorously evangelical because of the memes they are sharing” on social media. Evangelicals will have to deal with “the decongregationalizing of the movement itself,” he said.

In his talk, Kidd defined evangelicals as “born-again Protestants who cherish the Bible as the Word of God and who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.”

Anyabwile told of convening a meeting of fellow black, Reformed pastors at which 60 to 70 percent of them said they no longer want to be identified as evangelical.

“I don’t think there are a lot of people who theologically are in fact evangelicals who are actually comfortable and actually embraced by the term,” he said. “That’s a problem. Ethnic minorities are only able to comfortably exist in evangelicalism to the extent that they don’t ‘get too political.'”

Read the entire piece here.

Fuller Theological Seminary Will NOT Move to Pomona

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The evangelical seminary will remain in Pasadena.  Here is a taste of Deepa Bharath’s reporting at the Orange County Register:

Fuller Theological Seminary will not leave its Pasadena campus to move to Pomona primarily due to restrictions on the current property, school officials announced Monday, Oct. 28.

President Mark Labberton had announced in May 2018 that the seminary would sell its 13-acre campus and move to Pomona by 2021 because remaining in Pasadena would be costly and limit its ability to reach potential students.

But, he said Monday in an issued statement, despite having purchased land and developed architectural plans, the move is not possible now.

“This means letting go of some wonderful dreams and hopes we shared with Pomona leaders and citizens, with whom we hoped to become neighbors,” Labberton said. “We deeply regret seeing these dreams unfulfilled.”

Labberton said the board voted unanimously on Thursday, Oct. 24, to remain in Pasadena for two reasons — dramatically escalated construction costs in Southern California, and differences with the city of Pasadena that affected the sale and sale price of the existing campus.

Fuller spokesman Britt Vaughn declined to discuss details of “the differences” that arose suddenly and unexpectedly, making the sale of the Pasadena property and construction of the new campus in Pomona unfeasible.

Fuller officials said a lot changed very quickly.

“The economics and timing on which we based the original plan have changed too significantly to make it the best course for Fuller’s future,” board Chairman Dan Meyer said in a statement posted on Fuller’s website.

Read the rest here.

Karen Swallow Prior Leaves Liberty University

Author and educator Karen Swallow Prior. Courtesy photo

Photo courtesy of Religion News Service

I am glad to see that schools like the college at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina have research professors and I am happy that Karen Swallow Prior will be holding one of these positions beginning in the Fall of 2020. This is book news in evangelical circles.

According to Kate Shellnut’s piece at Christianity Today, she will be one of the only female faculty members at the Southern Baptist school.

Here is the press release from Southeastern:

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) is excited to announce that Karen Swallow Prior will be joining the faculty as full-time research professor of English and Christianity & Culture beginning in the fall semester of 2020. She will be the first research professor in the history of The College at Southeastern.

“I am delighted to have Karen join our faculty,” said SEBTS President Danny Akin. “She is a gifted teacher in the field of English and literature who loves Christ, the gospel and the Great Commission. Our students will be blessed to sit under her instruction. She is a wonderful addition to the outstanding faculty of Southeastern.”

Prior has served for more than two decades as professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she is also a senior fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement. She received both her M.A. and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and she earned a B.A. from Daemen College. Prior and her husband, Roy, are members of Thomas Road Baptist Church. 

Prior is an accomplished author and speaker with an expertise in 18th century British literature. She has published three books: “On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books”, which was named a Top Religion Book of 2018 by Publisher’s Weekly, and a literary and spiritual memoir, “Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.” Her book, “Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist” was chosen for a Christianity Today Book Award in 2015. Likewise, she has written numerous articles in publications such as Christianity Today, The Washington Post, Books & Culture, The Atlantic and The Gospel Coalition.

“I could not be more excited about this announcement,” said Scott Pace, dean of The College at Southeastern and Johnny Hunt chair of biblical preaching. “Karen Prior is a welcomed addition to our already stellar faculty at The College of Southeastern. As a conservative evangelical and cultural ambassador, Karen brings a unique combination of skills and expertise that will help train our students through a Christian liberal arts education and equip them to give their lives for the cause of Christ in the church, among the nations, and in every aspect of society.”

While Prior will primarily teach undergraduates at The College at Southeastern, she will also regularly teach at the graduate and doctoral level.

Prior has also served as a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is currently a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

“I’m looking forward to being able to join with Southeastern in its exciting mission of sending students, future pastors and future scholars across the globe according to God’s calling on their lives and the Great Commission,” said Prior.

“At Liberty, I have been privileged to disciple Christian young people for 21 years, primarily in my discipline of English,” she said. “My mission in teaching has always been to have students leaving my classroom loving life, literature and God more than when they came in. I look forward to continuing in that mission as I move into this new assignment at Southeastern.” 

Walter Kim is the New President of the National Association of Evangelicals

kim NAE

Kim grew up in Appalachia.  He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he was a history major.  He has an M.Div from Regent College in Vancouver, and a Ph.D in Near Eastern languages from Harvard.  It is an impressive resume.  He is a currently pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia and previously served as lead pastor at Boston’s Park Street Church. (My former pastor, Phil Thorne, is currently the Interim Senior Minister at this historic evangelical church).

Kim replaces Minnesota pastor Leith Anderson.

According to Kate Shellnut’s piece today at Christianity Today, Kim hopes to “bring together a movement in crisis.”

Here is a taste of that piece:

Kim will maintain his position at Trinity Charlottesville, a prominent PCA congregation with over 1,000 members, noting the bivocational precedent for the presidency, as past leaders have also continued their roles in their local churches.

“Throughout this process, my prayer has been that if I trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding, he would make my path straight (Prov. 3:5-6),” said Kim, who is married with two teenage kids. “I’m also grateful for the godly counsel of family, dear friends both old and new, and a discernment committee at Trinity. These resulted in a growing conviction to accept this appointment—knowing that even though I am a jar of clay, the all-surpassing power is from God (2 Cor. 4:7).”

Prior to Trinity Charlottesville and Park Street, Kim served as a chaplain at Yale University, and taught at Boston College and Harvard University, where he received his PhD in Near Eastern languages and civilizations. He has previously described being raised in a loosely Christian home and “backing into evangelicalism” as his faith affirmations and experience grew deeper.

Read the entire piece here. This looks like a good move.

The American Council of Christian Churches Still Exists

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When post-fundamentalists like Billy Graham, Carl. F.H. Henry, and Harold John Ockenga began to forge a kinder and gentler brand of conservative Protestantism known as “neo-evangelicalism,” there were many veterans of the fundamentalist-modernist battles of the 1920s who continued to cling to the “fundamentalist” label. The primary difference between these groups of former fundamentalists focused on how to engage the larger religious world.  Neo-evangelicals favored cultural engagement and an irenic spirit toward liberal Protestantism.  Fundamentalists championed separation from the world and a more militant attitude toward liberal Protestantism. As historian George Marsden once quipped, a fundamentalist is “an evangelical Christian who is angry about something.”  The fundamentalists believed that the neo-evangelicals were compromising true biblical faith by participating in religious events with modernists.  The neo-evangelicals founded the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942.  A year earlier, the fundamentalists founded the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC).  I wrote about the distinctions between these two groups here.

The American Council of Christian Churches was founded by Presbyterian minister Carl McIntire.  His fundamentalist credentials were strong.  McIntire was defrocked by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. for violating his ordination vows in 1936 and quickly joined J. Gresham Machen’s Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).  A year later he broke away from the OPC and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church.  I wrote about these splits here.

McIntire had grandiose dreams of a national council of fundamentalist churches similar to the ecumenical Federal Council of Christian Churches (FCC).  By early 1940, he was calling for a national organizations from the pages of his weekly newspaper, the Christian Beacon.  McIntire used the Christian Beacon to unleash scathing attacks against modernists and those fundamentalists who refused to separate from mainline Protestant denominations.  He would devote entire issues of the paper to the publication of charts and graphs designed to document the growth of liberal theology in the FCC and expose its modernist leaders.  In one editorial on the FCC and modernism, Mcintire wrote:

There is a need for an organization representing the true Protestant position which can receive its proportionate share of time from the radio broadcasts…The reason that the Protestants are not represented is that they have no spoken up.  We believe God is able and that He is going to raise up a voice.

As this quote reveals, McIntire imagined an organization that championed fundamentalist voices on the radio.  He also wanted an organization of churches that would advocate for fundamentalist military chaplains during World War II.

The American Council of Churches was born on September 17, 1941 at McIntire’s National Bible Institute (later Shelton College) on 55th Street in New York City.  The original sponsors included Will Houghton of Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones Sr. of Bob Jones University, and Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life Fellowship.   The original ACCC was made-up of two fundamentalist denominations: McIntire’s Bible Presbyterian Church and the Bible Protestant Church, a group of separatist Methodists who withdrew from the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939 in protest to the merger between the Methodist Protestant Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, and Methodist Episcopal Church South.

The ACCC grew modestly.  In the next several years the Bible Presbyterian Church and Bible Protestant Church were joined by the American Bible Fellowship, the General Association of Regular Baptists, the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Old Evangelical Catholic Church, the Union of Regular Baptist Churches of Ontario and Quebec, the Tioga River Christian Conference, the Conference of Fundamentalist Churches, the United Christian Church, the National Fellowship of Brethren Churches, the Ohio Independent Baptist Church.  The two largest denominations were the General Association of Regular Baptists, which under the leadership of Robert T. Ketcham had split from the Northern Baptist Convention, and the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, who were a untied group of independent churches under the leadership of William McCarrell.

The leaders of the ACCC, despite the organization’s small constituency (1.2 million members), understood it as the ecclesiastical opponent of the massive FCC, which contained over 30 million members.  The zealous voices of the ACCC made it appear as if they had a much large piece of the American religious landscape.  They energetically, and successfully, lobbied for radio time and military chaplains.   The organization launched McIntire into the national spotlight.

I lost track of the activities of the American Council of Christian Churches after I turned my scholarly attention to early American history.  But last week I learned that the organization still exists.  In fact, its national meeting will take place this weekend right in my own backyard.

The 2019 meeting of the ACCC is scheduled for October 22-24 at Faith Chapel in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  You can read all about it here.

It appears that the present-day ACCC is made up of nine denominations and continues to uphold its historic commitment to separation.

The 2019 conference theme is “Biblical Fundamentalism: Pursuing Purity.”  Here is what attendees can expect:

The emergence of Biblical Fundamentalism late in the 19th century was not the creation of something new in Christendom.  It was the call to return to the Apostolic roots of Christianity and to resist the efforts of modern liberalism to redefine the message of the Bible.  The Bible conferences that took place at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, beginning in 1876, recognized the theological drift that afflicted churches across the United States and Canada.  Long before the appearance of the New Evangelicalism with its cultivation of dialogue with enemies of the faith and compromise of the faith’s core principles, the early Fundamentalists confronted the emissaries of German rationalism and their campaign against the cardinal doctrines of Christianity.  They faced those enemies of the truth with resolve and summoned believers in Christ to take their stand for the separated witness of the Gospel. 

Nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, Biblical Fundamentalism tends to be an expression of scorn and contempt among so-called conservative evangelicals who appear to desire the revival of the New Evangelicalism.  The American Council of Christian Churches declines all association with such a desire.  It takes its stand without apology for the faith once delivered to the saints.  It bears the historic name of Biblical Fundamentalism as a badge of honor and an assertion that it will stand with Christ outside the camp of worldliness and compromise.  For its 78th annual convention, to take place October 22-24 at Faith Chapel, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the American Council of Christian Churches calls the people of God to a revival of their old resolve to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  The history of Biblical Fundamentalism is replete with courageous contenders for the truth whose example 21st century believers do well to emulate.  The answers to the challenge of this time lie in the Holy Scriptures and in their revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ.  To both the written and Incarnate Word, the faithful people of God owe all their allegiance and the devotion of their lives.

The titles of the plenary addresses tell us a lot about the organization.  They include:

“The Battle Royal: Biblical Fundamentalism”

“God Would Raise Up New Generations of Fundamentalists”

“Knowing Our History: Biblical Fundamentalism’s Past”

“Has the Battle Ended? Biblical Fundamentalism’s Present and Future”

The conference also includes breakout sessions devoted to the legacies of McIntire, Bob Jones Jr. Gresham Machem, Robert T. Ketcham, Bob Jones Sr, Ian Paisley, and William Bell Riley.

Yes, it appears the American Council of Churches is alive and well.  There are still groups out their who gladly embrace the label “fundamentalist.”

Ed Stetzer is Right About CNN’s Equality Town Hall

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Here is a taste of the Wheaton College professor’s recent post at Christianity Today:

I’m concerned with the clear and complete disregard around religious liberty. This term was used a few times, often with the phrase “so called” tacked on. Candidates would say they affirm religious liberty, but then describe exactly how they did not.

Elizabeth Warren was asked a revealing question: How would she respond if an “old fashioned” voter told her that they believed that marriage is between one man and one woman? She retorted with, “I’m going to assume it is a guy who said that,” before answering, “Well then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.”

There was much applause. However, she then shrugged, adding, “assuming you could find one.” The audience roared with laughter, further insinuating that any person who held such values is so out of step, bigoted, homophobic, and small minded that he could not find someone who would be willing to marry him. (See the CNN clip.)

But let’s be honest: that’s really not the issue. The issue is: Can people dissent from what is now the majority view of marriage? As we saw, Warren not only mocked those who disagreed but advocated for policies that seek to marginalize and penalize those who do hold a biblical view of marriage.

Contrary to Warren’s playing to the choir, these views are not representative of frustrated men but rather reflect a broad array of people of faith— people many Democrats have recently ignored.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Slate published an analysis of “Why Hillary Clinton Bombed with Evangelical Voters.” In the article, I said it appeared that Hillary Clinton was working hard to alienate evangelicals—and she succeeded.

Later, the news would be how evangelicals had aligned with President Trump, while neglecting the clear and obvious reality that even Slate Magazine noticed: when it comes to evangelicals, Hillary was disengaged and even alienating.

Last night’s CNN debate was a perfect example of that same alienation.

While Warren’s quip lit up social media, another candidate delivered the biggest surprise in giving voice to what many perceived to be the trajectory of religious liberty debates, long left unsaid by other Democrats. Facing a question over the tax exempt status of churches, Beto O’Rourke asserted that not only churches but any organization that opposed same-sex marriage, should lose their tax exemption.

tweeted a link to the Beto video and this comment:

2009: How is my gay marriage going to hurt you? We just want marriage equality.

2019: We want the tax exempt status of the churches, charities, and colleges revoked for your failure to change your views on gay marriage.

In 2009, the mantra was “We just want our marriage equity. We just want to be able to let love be love.” Ten years later, the goal posts have moved for many: affirm the new orthodoxy on same sex marriage—or lose tax exempt status. This is quite a striking position, considering all the institutions he mentioned (churches, charities, and colleges). That’s your religious hospital, the orphanage, the homeless shelter, and more.

Now, this was Beto O’Rourke, not every candidate. But, it is important to consider the Equality Act if we want to talk about the broader field of Democratic candidates.

Equality Act is widely supported by the Democratic political candidates for president. That act has significant implications for the very institutions that Beto did mention—charities and colleges.

At Wheaton College where I serve, we have a community covenant that aligns our life and beliefs. We affirm the biblical teaching that marriage is designed and created for one man, one woman, and one lifetime.

The Equality Act would in essence say that our beliefs are unacceptable and that we must change. 

Read the entire piece here.  We covered this story here and here.

Do Beto and Warren represent all the Democratic candidates for president?  I imagine that we find out soon.  As I mentioned here yesterday, Don Lemon’s question to Beto Rourke should be asked of all the Democratic candidates.

How might evangelicals respond if all that Stetzer proposes comes true?  I stand by what I argued in Believe Me.  The answer is not fear, the pursuit of greater political power (to the point that we put our trust in a strongman to save us), or an appeal to nostalgia.  The answer is hope, humility, and thoughtful efforts to bring about a more confident pluralism.  We might also be called to suffer. These are the things evangelicals should be thinking and praying about right now.   The answer does not lie in what is happening in Washington D.C. this weekend.

Out of the Zoo: “American Gospel”

American GospelAnnie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie reflects on her viewing of a the documentary American Gospel.  –JF

I spent a portion of my Saturday last week watching American Gospel: In Christ Alone in the lounge juxtaposed between Miller, Grantham, and Hess residences. The said lounge is affectionately named “the fishbowl” by Messiah students because of its’ floor-to-ceiling windows. I heard about American Gospel over the summer when my old youth pastor Kenneth Price  shared his admiration of it on Facebook (read more about Kenneth’s impact on my life in one of my previous blog posts). I had been meaning to watch the documentary since then, so when one of my house-mates told me she was planning to watch it one afternoon, I opted to join her.

I could go on and on about all the points American Gospel argues, but I’ll let you watch the two and a half hour documentary on your own time. As for me though, I’m glad I remembered to bring my journal because I ended up with four and a half pages of notes. The film primarily takes a shot at the American prosperity gospel–a movement with figureheads like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn and Todd White who espouse the false doctrine that faith in Jesus will always result in an easy life full of blessings and miraculous healing. It calls such doctrine dangerous and false. If you don’t agree, please take it up with Ray Comfort or Matt Chandler or one of the documentary’s many contributors, not with me.

American Gospel emphasizes the reality that when we come to faith, while we may get to witness miraculous healing or experience prosperity, what we are really called to do is to suffer, endure trials, die to ourselves, and to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

American Gospel also got me thinking about my future as a history teacher. Christians who expect following Jesus will be easy are like educators who believe their students will never talk back or forget a homework assignment. If teachers decided to start teaching because they thought it would be a painless or affluent undertaking they would have abandoned their posts long ago. Proponents of prosperity gospel are like historians who think they will always be able to construct a perfect, concise narrative every time, confidently tying up every loose end in a neat bow. Instead, the reality is that historians are to dive deep into the messiness of the past and meet challenges as they come–and they will come.

Some people believe that the right path to take is the easiest one, or the one that will fetch the most earthly wealth or happiness. They think one’s choices should be contingent on their own wants and desires. If I thought like this I wouldn’t have gone to college for a history degree, and I certainly wouldn’t be working towards a career in education. If David wanted to take the easy route he would have never faced Goliath. If the Apostle Paul shared this view his name would probably still be Saul. If Jesus decided to live an easy life he certainly wouldn’t have sacrificed himself for us on the cross. So instead of taking the easy way out, we are called to follow Christ’s example, keeping our eyes on him through every tragedy and every triumph.

What Franklin Graham’s Recent Tweet Really Means

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Court evangelical Franklin Graham recently tweeted the following:

 

Here is the way Trump-supporting evangelicals read Graham’s tweet:

“Our nation seems to be unraveling in hatred.”  Democrats hate America and their actions toward Trump are precipitating the collapse of the United States as a Christian nation.

“There are forces….” The Democrats behind impeachment are working for Satan, seeking to undermine America’s Christian identity.  (“Forces is very often linked to demonic activity in evangelical-speak).

“pray for this country…”: Pray that Donald Trump will not be impeached and God will intervene to protect His anointed one.

What is a “court evangelical?”  See Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump