Check Out This Week’s “The Holy Post Podcast”

Holy Post.jpegI chat with Skye Jethani about the evangelical persecution complex.  Here is a summary of the episode:

In a number of recent commencement speeches at Christian colleges, Vice President Mike Pence has been warning graduates about the hostility of our culture toward Christians. Historian John Fea is back to talk about what Pence gets right, and what he gets wrong, about the persecution of evangelicals in the U.S. Plus, Fea shares his theory about why regular church attendees are the most likely to still support Trump. Also this week, an evangelical activist is guilty of “astroturfing” Muslims. Airports try to ban Chick-Fil-A and Hollywood studios boycott states passing abortion restrictions. And is conservative politics killing white churches?

Listen here.

More on the Billy Graham Archives Move from Wheaton to Charlotte

BG-Library-Fall-Events

Religion News Service is running another piece on the Franklin Graham’s decision to move the Billy Graham Archives from Wheaton College to the Billy Graham “Library” in Charlotte.

Back in March, I weighed-in as part of another RNS piece on this topic.  At that time I said this: “By taking the papers away from Wheaton, where access is open, Franklin Graham and the BGEA can now control access and can thus control the narrative of his father’s life in terms of who gets to read them….Evangelicals must come face to face with both the good side and bad side of their history by taking an honest look at people like Billy Graham.  I am not sure this will happen in Charlotte.  The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte is not a library.”

I also wrote a post here.

Here is a taste of Tim Funk’s recent RNS piece:

This week, at Wheaton College in Illinois, specially trained movers will begin organizing, preparing and packing 3,235 boxes of paper items, 1,000 scrapbooks of news clippings dating back to the 1940s and more than 1,000 linear feet of videos, cassettes, reels, films and audio.

All of it documents the life and ministry of evangelist Billy Graham, the Christian college’s most famous alumnus. And soon, all of it will be headed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, N.C., Graham’s hometown.

The big transport trucks that will haul the valuable cargo won’t make the nearly 800-mile trip until mid to late June. But the controversy over moving the Graham materials all began more than two months ago. That’s when it was announced that, after June 1, the materials would no longer be housed at Wheaton’s highly regarded Billy Graham Center Archives.

Since it opened with Billy Graham’s blessing in 1980, more than 19,000 scholars, journalists and other researchers from around the world have spent 67,000 hours doing work there.

The BGEA’s Charlotte site does include the 12-year-old Billy Graham Library, but it was not designed as a research facility. Instead, it is a presidential-like museum celebrating the life of Graham, who died last year at age 99, and is a brick-and-mortar continuation of his worldwide evangelism efforts.

“The so-called (Billy Graham) Library is not a library,” said Edith Blumhofer, a longtime history professor at Wheaton who is now completing a study of the music of the Billy Graham Crusades. “It has no archives. It has no archivist.”

Read the entire piece here.

Why Did Trump Go to McLean Bible Church?

Platt Trump

As some of you know, yesterday Donald Trump made a short visit (some outlets are reporting 16-minutes) to McLean Bible Church, an evangelical megachurch in Vienna, Virginia.  David Platt, the pastor of the church, prayed for Trump.

Why did he go?

A White House spokesperson named Judd Deere said that Trump visited the church “to visit with the Pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.”

Really?

I don’t know if McLean Bible Church pastor David Platt “visited” with Trump before he took the stage and prayed for the president.  As I understand it, Trump showed-up in the middle of the service.  The president did not make any public statement.  Platt’s prayer said nothing about Virginia Beach.

Trump actually came to McLean Bible Church to throw a bone to his evangelical base.  This was the day that Franklin Graham set aside to pray for the president.  I wrote about this here and here and contributed to this CNN report.

His visit had nothing to do with Virginia Beach.  I have no idea why Deere said that it was about the Virginia Beach shooting.  If he was honest, and simply said that Trump was there to honor Franklin Graham’s call for prayer, he probably would have scored more political points with the visit.  Or maybe Deere had no clue as to why Trump showed-up at McLean Bible Church.  He was covering the weekend the shift in the press shop, hear about the spontaneous visit, and simply offered the Virginia Beach explanation off the top of his head because it made sense.

One of the best things I have read on this comes from David Bains, a religion professor at Samford University.   He writes:

Yesterday afternoon was surely one of the odder moments in the history of presidential churchgoing. Returning from midday golf game at the Trump National Golf Club in Loudoun County, Virginia, the President stopped at McLean Bible Church at 2:20 pm to appear in a regularly scheduled Sunday service that started at 1:00 pm. The church is about 11 miles from the golf course. He was at the church for fifteen minutes, and in the service for only a portion of that.

The White House said that the purpose of the visit was to visit with the church’s pastor, David Platt, and pray for victims of Friday’s deadly mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Yet, while Trump was in the church there were no public prayers for the victims of the Virginia Beach shooting. Rather, Platt seemed to understand that the visit was linked to the special national day of prayer for the president that Franklin Graham and others had declared. Given that the president was being criticized in the morning for not attending church on his day, it is reasonable to conclude as historian John Fea has that that was a key reason behind the president’s church visit.

While Platt is generally being praised for offering a prayer for the president and other leaders that was not an endorsement of Trump, the White House defined the meaning of the the event in the media. Most reports have stated that the purpose of the visit was to pray for the victims of Friday’s shooting, and the 170-some miles between the church and the location of the shooting is lost on those unfamiliar with Virginia.

Platt did not endorse Graham’s designation of June 2 as a “SPECIAL Day of Prayer for the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, that God would protect, strengthen, embolden, and direct him.” The extemporaneous prayer Platt offered while standing next to the President did not focus on the Graham’s key themes of protection and emboldening, nor did it speak of the president as being attacked. But the optic of the prayer, with the president looking weary and slightly disheveled while a young pastor prays with a hand on the president’s back and proving useful to those who wanted to see the president being prayed for in a church on this day.

Read the rest here.

In a later tweet, Bains stressed the fact that McLean Bible Church had a 1:00pm service:

Yup.

Perhaps it went down this way: Trump was on the golf course all morning and probably saw people on Twitter criticizing him for golfing while so many of his evangelical supporters were in church praying for him.  He and his staff did not like the optics, but it was too late in the day to find an evangelical service to attend.  Most evangelical congregations do not have afternoon services.

But wait!

McLean Bible Church in Vienna actually does have an afternoon service.  It starts at 1:00pm.  Jackpot!

If Trump and his crew hurried, they could get to Vienna before the service ended.  Trump showed up at 2:25pm. (Most evangelical services last anywhere between 60 and 75 minutes. Did McLean extend the service?)  But there was no time to comb his hair or take off his golf shoes.  The fact that the McLean pastor David Platt is not a court evangelical and did not sign Franklin Graham’s call for prayer was irrelevant by this point.

Finally, it is worth noting that some media outlets and popular tweeters simply took the White House at its word about the purpose of the visit and seemed to have no clue that this was all about Graham’s call for prayer and not about Virginia Beach.

ADDENDUM (June 3, 2019 at 9:12 PM):  According to commentator Kenny Brown (see his comment below), Mike Pence occasionally attends McLean Bible Church. Perhaps this also has something to do with how Trump ended up there.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention Evangelical or Fundamentalist?: Some Thoughts on the Beth Moore Controversy

Beth Moore

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, I am not a cradle evangelical.  I spent the first sixteen years of my life as a Roman Catholic.  I had a conversion experience as a sophomore in high school and I left the Catholic church for a non-denominational Bible church.  In other words, I became an evangelical.

When I converted, the word “evangelical” or “evangelicalism” meant nothing to me. I don’t think I ever met a born-again Christian until I started attending the youth group at Gilgal Bible Chapel in West Milford, New Jersey.  I went from the cloistered community of a working-class Catholic upbringing (I seem to remember mostly Catholics and Jews in my public high school, although I am sure there were Protestants as well) to a similarly cloistered evangelical world.  My only exposure to evangelical Christianity came through Gilgal, a church plant with an authoritarian pastor located on a multi-acre site that included a Christian camp and a conference center. (Gilgal had its own unique approach to evangelical Christianity, and its authoritarian pastor had a tragic fall from grace, but I will need to save that for another post or perhaps another book!)

My conversion was real and life-altering.  I put aside a journalism career and prepared for a life in the evangelical ministry.  My pastor recommended I go to Bible college.  So I did.  I initially thought I would be spending the next four years in residence at a place similar to a monastery, but I soon realized that most Bible college students were no different than the students who attended my public high school.  They dressed the same way, had the same haircuts, listened to the same music (despite the fact they were not permitted to listen to “secular music”), drove the same cars, and had the same ambitions and vices.  They baptized these traits with their “calls” to ministry and a sense of Christian piety.  For some, these “calls” were real and I had much respect, and continue to have much respect, for many of my classmates.  For others, I had no idea why they were in Bible college.  In the end, I had a great time at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University).  I played basketball and made some great friends.  It was like I was attending a four-year Christian youth retreat.  But I digress…

By my senior year I realized that I wasn’t getting much of a liberal education.  In the 1980s Philadelphia College of Bible was a dispensational school.  Bible and theology professors taught us that God had different plans for Israel and the Church.  (One professor, John McGahey, would scream at us: “ISRAEL IS NOT THE CHURCH!). The purpose of this Bible college education, if you could call it that, was to indoctrinate students in dispensational premillennialism. We were required to buy a copy of the Scofield Bible.  We read books by dispensational luminaries such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, and J. Dwight Pentecost.  We waited for the rapture–the moment when God would raise-up the true believers to meet him in the air.  And our teachers made sure that we knew the rapture would come before the seven-year tribulation.  All of my Bible professors had advanced degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary, the intellectual home of dispensationalism.

Upon graduation, I knew that I wanted to continue my theological education. But I did not want to go to Dallas with some of my other classmates.  I enrolled at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois.  TEDS was an evangelical seminary, but it was not dispensational in orientation (although it did have a few dispensational professors).  I chose TEDS because I knew that I would find evangelical professors who would expand my horizons.  My goal was to pursue a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree and use my time to figure out what I might do with such a course of study.  At the very least, I thought an MDiv would allow me to think theologically about the world.  I had no real long-term plan.  My parents helped me out with the tuition, but I also worked as a security guard at various places to get myself to graduation.  I eventually fell in love with history, added an M.A. in church history to my vita, and headed off to pursue a Ph.D in American history.

When I arrived at TEDS in the late 1980s, the school prided itself on its commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible.  Kenneth Kantzer, the retired dean of the seminary, had attracted some of the best evangelical theologians to TEDS for the purpose of providing an inerrancy-based alternative to Fuller Theological Seminary, the Pasadena, California school that abandoned the doctrine of inerrancy in the 1960s.  (See George Marsden’s book Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism).

Some professors made a big deal about inerrancy.  Others rarely mentioned it. I took Scot McKnight for a Greek refresher course.  The subject of inerrancy never came up.  (Nor did it come-up much in his Synpotic Gospels course).  John D. Woodbridge, who taught me how to think historically and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D in history, was a staunch defender of inerrancy.  My other church history professor, Tom Nettles (who I did not know as well as Woodbridge), did not say too much about inerrancy despite the fact that he was an important historian of the doctrine during the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Church.

But what I remember most about TEDS was the theological diversity of the faculty.  While some of my readers might wonder how a school that upholds biblical inerrancy could be theologically diverse, at the time I did not see it that way . TEDS was not Philadelphia College of Bible or Dallas Theological Seminary.  During my three years on campus I took courses with dispensationalists (Paul Feinberg) and covenant theologians (Ray Ortlund Jr and Walter Kaiser).  I took courses with faculty who opposed women’s ordination (Wayne Grudem) and those who championed women’s ordination (Walter Liefield).  There were Presbyterians and Baptists, Calvinists and Arminians.  I even had one professor (Murray Harris) who did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I sat-in on courses taught by some of the founders of the neo-evangelical movement:  Carl F.H. Henry, Kantzer, and Gleason Archer.  I took theology with Harold O.J. Brown, the Harvard trained scholar who was one of the leading voices of the pro-life movement.  I made a few visits to a class on Puritanism taught by English theologian J.I. Packer.

I don’t know how all of these professors got along in the faculty lounge, but they always modeled a spirit of conversation and debate.  Evangelicals had core convictions, but what made them evangelicals was their irenic spirit and acceptance of those with whom they differed.  This spirit, perhaps more than anything, was what made them “evangelicals” and not “fundamentalists.”  As Marsden once put it, “a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something.”

At TEDS I learned that evangelicals championed orthodox beliefs– the deity of Christ, the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, the Holy Spirit’s role in the pursuit of holiness, and the necessity of living-out the Great Commission through evangelism.  But I also learned that evangelicals differed on what my professors called the “secondary” or “minor” doctrines: the ordination of women, the proper form of church government, the proper mode of baptism, capital punishment, the relationship between God’s providence and human free will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.), war and peace, and the way one’s faith should manifest itself in the political sphere, to name a few.

I had classmates from every Protestant denomination imaginable–Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Anglicans, and Presbyterians.  Students were preparing for ministry in evangelical denominations like the Evangelical Free Church, but they also trained for work in non-denominational megachurches and mainline Protestantism denominations.

At this particular moment in my life (it was the early 1990s), I needed a place like TEDS.  I loved the fact that evangelicals could disagree on some matters of biblical interpretation.  (I even co-wrote a song about it titled “So Many Views,” sung to the tune of the Monkey’s “I’m A Believer”).  I learned how to think critically and theologically.  I knew that there was a larger theological world out there beyond the evangelical boundaries of TEDS and my experience in Deerfield gave me the skills to navigate it.

I understood the culture at TEDS as representative of the spirit of American evangelicalism.

I have been thinking lot about my experience at TEDS as I watch the debates over the role of women in the church currently taking place within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In case you missed it, last month there was a pretty significant Twitter battle on this topic.

It all began when the bombastic Southern Baptist seminary professor Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary published a piece on women in the church at his blog “Thought Life.”  Here is a taste of that May 7, 2019 post:

Biblical teaching on the sexes is not bad. It is not harmful to women. It is good–thunderously good–for women and for men. If we take the Bible at its word, then we recognize that there is no way for a woman to instruct the gathered church, whether in an authoritative or “non-authoritative” way. Congregational preaching and teaching is authoritative, for the Word of God is authoritative. There is no “non-authoritative” way to preach and teach the Bible. Any who doubt this point might recall how Paul contrasts the “word of men” with the “word of God” in 1 Thessalonians 2:13. If you speak and interpret the Scripture, you speak with the weight of eternity upon you. It cannot be otherwise.

Beth Moore and J. D. Greear are two popular Southern Baptist voices. Both Moore and Greear are gifted individuals, respected within the SBC and beyond it. In recent days, I was surprised to see these two figures endorse, in the context of the church’s gathered worship service, a woman teaching and preaching to the corporate body (see here and here). This was new to me; Southern Baptists have never embraced such a view. As mentioned above, there is no New Testament precedent for a woman teaching the corporate body of Christ (Priscilla’s words in Acts 18 to Apollos came in private, not in public), nor were women called to serve as priests in the old covenant era. Christ did not appoint a woman to be an apostle, nor did any woman serve as an elder in the first-century churches spoken of in Scripture.

And here is his Strachan’s conclusion:

Though many paint women monolithically today, seeing them as instinctually feminist, there are many women in submission to God who wish for men to lead them well and preach the Word faithfully. They do not see the Bible’s teaching on womanhood as “restrictive,” nor the complementarian movement as “afraid” of womanly gifting. Rather, they approach the Word of God with great reverence and awe. They wish to know the will of God, and do it. They take no pleasure in quieting or softening the Bible; they recognize the order that God has established, and they love it. There are scores of such women in church history, in Baptist history, in the modern SBC, and in the broader evangelical world. I know they are out there; I have heard their testimony firsthand. With the whole church of God, these women gladly confess that the counsel of the Lord stands forever (Psalm 33:11), and that the law of God’s mouth “is better…than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).

There is much the Word frees women to do as mentioned above. But for the women I speak of, where the Word gives them a prohibition for God’s glory and their good, they receive that commandment with gladness. They submit to God, as we all must do (James 4:7). In our God-defying age, this posture stands out sharply. It is driven by our total confidence in the unerring mind and will of God. We think of Psalm 119:89 on this count: בַּשָּׁמָֽיִם נִצָּ֥ב דְּ֝בָרְךָ֗ יְהוָ֑ה לְעוֹלָ֥ם, “Forever, Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.” It is not man who has “fixed” the word of God, and written it in the sky. By God’s own hand and mind, there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.

Let no one defy this order.

There is a lot that could be said about Strachan’s post.  I disagree with him on the role of women in the church and the family, but my intention here is not to get into these theological and interpretive weeds.  There are indeed a lot of denominations that do not ordain women, including the Roman Catholic Church.  But I will say this:  by ending his post with the words “let no one defy this order,” Strachan reveals his dogmatism on this issue.  I wonder what he would think about someone who does “defy this order?”  Are they living in sin?  Are they outside the fold of Christian orthodoxy?  Of evangelicalism?  Will Strachan still have Christian fellowship with them?  Should they be cast into perdition? What is at stake here?

After he wrote this piece, Strachan turned to Twitter to promote it:

It was at this point that the wildly popular evangelical preacher Beth Moore entered the fray:

Strachan initially responded politely:

But then his Twitter feed got snarky.

For example, he retweeted this:

And then his many followers and others of like mind started chiming in:

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And then this week Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, added fuel to the fire with this tweet:

Those familiar with Mohler will remember that he was instrumental in making Southern Seminary a complementarian school and the Southern Baptist Convention a complementarian denomination.  When one listens to Mohler and Strachan, one gets the impression that they believe their view of what the Bible teaches on the role of women in the church and the home is not a secondary issue of faith, but one that is essential to Christian orthodoxy.  I honestly don’t believe that they really think this, but their rhetoric is so definitive and dogmatic that it certainly sounds like they do.

Strachan is not letting go of this position.  He sees the denial of the pulpit to women such as Beth Moore and others as a non-negotiable theological view in the SBC. In other words, those who take a different position do not belong in the denomination. Here is his tweet in response to Mohler (notice how he continues to see himself in the vanguard of those who led the conservative resurgence, even going to the point of capitalizing the word “Resurgence”):

Of course the Southern Baptist Church leadership has the right to define the role of women in the church in any way they want to define it.  This is what religious liberty is all about.  Millions of evangelicals attend churches that do not ordain women.  As noted above, the largest religious body in the world–the Catholic Church–does not ordain women.  But Strachan and other Southern Baptists also like to fancy themselves as heirs to the evangelicalism that I experienced at TEDS nearly thirty years ago. Strachan writes books and edits books for conservative Christian publishers extolling people like Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Colson, and other members of the neo-evangelical movement.

My professors at TEDS had firm convictions on a whole host of issues, but they did not promote them with the fundamentalist spirit to which I see coming from Strachan and his followers.  In fact, it was this very spirit–the kind of militant spirit I see in their tweets–that made fundamentalism so repulsive to people like Carl Henry, Ken Kantzer, and the other neo-evangelical leaders who broke from fundamentalist militancy in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Southern Baptist Convention can work out their issues on women in the church on their own, without my help, but if you are going to try to make complementarianism a defining and non-negotiable characteristic of SBC orthodoxy please stop writing about how much you love the neo-evangelical movement.

On the other hand, if you do want to claim the Henry/Kantzer/neo-evangelical mantle, perhaps it is time to rethink the Convention’s position on this issue and broaden the tent a bit.

CNN on Franklin Graham’s Call to Prayer for Donald Trump

Trump Graham

Daniel Burke has it covered at CNN.  He talked to Franklin Graham, Peter Wehner, Warren Throckmorton, Michelle Margolis, and your truly.

The most revealing part of this article is when Burke asked Graham to respond to Christians who think Trump hurts the church.  Burke writes: “Asked how he would answer critics who say that Trump and his evangelical allies are actually a threat to the church, Graham declined to engage the question. ‘I wouldn’t even answer a person like that. I don’t think it’s valid at all.'”

This is yet another example of the current divide in American evangelicalism.  Graham is incapable of understanding that there are people who share his faith and also believe Trump is damaging the witness of the Gospel.  And if such people do exist (and they do), he seems to suggest that he has nothing to say to them because they are wrong.

Here is a taste of Burke’s piece:

Because of his charity work and family name, Graham carries immense influence over American evangelicals, said John Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

“What he says politically is going to sway how many American evangelicals vote and pray.”

But Fea is among the evangelicals critical of Graham’s pro-Trump prayer event.

The historian notes that Graham ended his Facebook post with a dark biblical warning about the array of spiritual forces aligned against contemporary Christians.

“That’s a code verse,” Fea said. “It sends a clear message to his followers that there is something at work here beyond politics. He’s saying that America is under spiritual attack and equating the attacks on Trump with that.”

Graham said he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s policies and that God commands Christians to pray for their secular leaders. “If he’s a good President, it benefits every American of every race and gender.” Still, Graham acknowledged that Trump has been an especially attentive patron to his evangelical base, calling him the “most pro-Christian President in my lifetime.”

But other evangelicals have noted the obvious: That Trump’s actions as President have not, and likely will not, benefit everyone.

Read the entire article here.

Last Night’s Court Evangelical Tweetstorm

For those who missed it (the link in the first tweet is now correct):

Is the Founder of The Veritas Forum Behind an Anti-Muslim Facebook Campaign?

Jullberg

What is going on with Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder of the Veritas Forum?  Here is a taste of Asysha Kahn’s piece at Religion News Service:

Fact-checking website Snopes linked the network to Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder and president of The America Conservancy, whose aims, as Kullberg has described online, are “advancing Biblical wisdom as the highest love for people and for culture.” All 24 Facebook pages had financial ties to Kullberg directly or organizations she helps lead.

Posts on the network decry “Islamist Privilege and Sharia Supremacy” and claim that Islam is “not a religion”; that Islam promotes rape, murder and deception; that Muslims hate Christians and Jews; that Muslims have an agenda to “spread Sharia law and Islam through migration and reproduction”; and that resettling Muslim refugees is “cultural destruction and subjugation.”

The tactics seem to mirror the playbook of Russian troll farms, with page titles purporting to originate with diverse demographic groups like “Blacks for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump,” “Teachers for Trump” and “Seniors for America.”

Snopes found that Kullberg and her associates’ agenda appeared, at least in part, to be working to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020. The “astroturfing” campaign — referring to efforts made to look as if they come from legitimate grassroots supporters — was at least in part funded by right-wing political donors, including a prominent GOP donor who served as a fundraiser and campaign board member for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I was happy to contribute to the Khan’s report:

“If you would have told me about this investigation 20 years ago I would have been very surprised,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” But given Kullberg’s more recent politics, he said, it’s hardly shocking.

Once a mainstream evangelical Christian figure, Kullberg is the founder of the The Veritas Forum, a prominent non-profit organization that partners with Christian college students to host discussions on campus about faith. The discussions attract non-evangelical, non-Christian and secular speakers as well as leading mainstream evangelical voices.

Her 1996 book “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians” topped bestseller lists. Now based in Columbus, Ohio, she has served as a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship and spent time as a missionary in Russia and several Latin American countries.

Most recently, Kullberg appears to have shifted further right politically, taking what Fea described as a “pro-Trump, Christian Right, culture war posture” laced with anti-social justice rhetoric. The American Association of Evangelicals, for which Kullberg is the founder and spokeswoman, is “essentially a Christian Right organization whose supporters read like a list of evangelical leaders who have thrown their support behind Donald Trump as a savior of the country and the church,” he said.

“She seems obsessed with the influence of George Soros on progressive evangelicals and believes that social justice warriors have hijacked the Gospel,” Fea noted.

Read the entire piece here.

While running the Veritas Forum, Kullberg worked with Christian speakers such as Francis Collins, Robert George, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Madeleine L’Engle, George Marsden, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Alister McGrath, Richard John Neuhaus, Alvin Plantinga, John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, Lauren Winner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and N.T. Wright.  She put some of these speakers into dialogue with the likes of Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer.

In her new role with the “The American Association of Evangelicals” she works with court evangelicals and pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas, James Garlow,  Everett Piper, Tim Wildmon, Wayne Grudem, Steve Strang, David Barton, and Lance Wallnau (the Trump prayer coin guy).

The divisions in American evangelicalism are widening.   The American Association of Evangelicals (AAE) is now the conservative, Christian Right alternative to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Here is how it understands its relationship to the NAE:

Kullberg is also a leader with Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) a more conservative evangelical immigration group that appears to be an alternative to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).  While the EBI includes many of the culture warriors I mentioned above, the EIT includes people like Leith Anderson (President of the NAE), Shirley Hoogstra (President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), and Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).

New alignments are forming.  Evangelicalism is changing and fracturing.

Christ of the Ozarks

Christ of the Ozarks

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

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

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

Read the entire post here.

A Visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Gordon Conwell

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

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

A few takeaways:

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

Tony Bennett, Evangelicalism, and University of Virginia Basketball

Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve watched my dreams get broken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweeney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haugen: Young Evangelicals are Committed to Social Justice

Black Lives Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are few examples how this debate is playing out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump court evangelicals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

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

Trends Regarding Race and Evangelicalism

latin evangelicals

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

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

See how Burge unpacks these points at Christianity Today.

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

Billy Graham Library

Here is the official Wheaton College statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 48: The Color of Compromise

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

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