From the Archives: “What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998”

Grudem 23

Yesterday I offered some analysis of Wayne Grudem’s article defending Donald Trump and criticizing Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office.  You can read my post here.

Today I am running a post I published on August 2, 2016.  It is titled “What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998.”  Here it is:

I am guessing a lot of my readers have never heard of Wayne Grudem.  He is an evangelical theologian and the author of a very popular one-volume treatment of evangelical systematic theology. He is also well-known within evangelical circles for defending a “complementarian” view of gender roles in the church and society.

Grudem is the quintessential evangelical insider.  He speaks and writes for evangelical churches and rarely ventures out of this subculture to engage a broader American public. This is why most people outside of evangelicalism have never heard of him.

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1989-1992) I took a theology course with Grudem.  I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that Grudem spent a lot of time talking about his work on the Biblical idea of prophecy. (I also remember having to read all of Calvin’s Institutes!). He would eventually argue that today’s Christians needed to reclaim the gift of prophecy.  If I remember correctly, he argued that the Holy Spirit could bring divine revelation to a believer’s mind.

During my time at Trinity I attended a major conference called “Evangelical Affirmations.” The purpose of the conference was to draw clearly defined theological boundaries around the word “evangelical.”  Leading evangelical theologians and pastors (mostly conservative evangelicals who upheld the doctrine of biblical inerrancy)  gathered on the Trinity campus in Deerfield, Illinois to try to figure out who was “in” and who was “out.”

One of the most heated debates focused on whether one could truly be called an “evangelical” if he or she did not believe that hell was a literal place–a place of fire and brimstone where unbelievers would spend eternity suffering for rejecting the Christian gospel.  I am guessing that most of the delegates to the Evangelical Affirmations conference would have affirmed the existence of such a place of eternal torment, but whether its literal existence should serve as a defining marker of evangelical faith was complicated by the beliefs of one man: John Stott.

Next to Billy Graham, John Stott is probably the most important and well-respected evangelical of the post-war era.  Even New York Times columnist David Brooks has sung his praises as a thoughtful, wise, humble, and respectable voice of modern evangelicalism.

Stott did not believe in a literal hell.

When the majority of delegates said that a true “evangelical” must believe in a literal hell, someone stood up (I can’t remember who it was) and begged, quite passionately I might add, that the group not define evangelicalism so narrowly that someone as influential as Stott would be excluded. (Stott was not present at the meeting).  Debate raged

Midway through this heated discussion about hell and John Stott, Wayne Grudem stood up.  I remember it vividly.  Grudem recognized Stott’s evangelical faith and his contribution to global evangelicalism, but he also articulated his strong conviction that the evangelical movement must, Stott or no Stott, affirm a belief in a literal hell.

I remember Grudem speaking with a great deal of certainty that day.  Frankly, I could not interpret his words apart from what he was teaching in his class about the so-called gift of prophecy.

I thought about this moment, and Grudem’s views on prophecy, when I read his recent article endorsing Donald Trump for President of the United States.  You can read it here.  I am not going to use this post to argue with his political views.  Later this week I will be a guest on a Christianity Today podcast that, from what I understand, will be using Grudem’s piece as a framing device for a larger discussion on evangelicals and the 2016 election. I will probably offer some history-informed commentary there.  I also appreciate the responses to Grudem’s piece written by Jonathan MerrittThomas KiddWarren ThrockmortonDavid FrenchBeth Allison BarrScot McKnightRandal RauserDavid Moore, and John Mark Reynolds. Check them out.

In his argument in favor of Trump, Grudem wrote:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

It seems like Grudem wants to ignore these character issues when it comes to Trump’s candidacy.  But back in 1998 he thought that the character of the POTUS was important. Here is a taste of a statement that evangelical leaders signed in response to the moral indiscretions of President Bill Clinton:

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

(Thanks to Katie Manzullo-Thomas and Devin Manzullo-Thomas for digging up this statement when I was writing in June about James Dobson’s support of Trump).

I am not sure which Wayne Grudem to believe–the 1998 anti-Clinton version or the 2016 pro-Trump version.  Perhaps Grudem has changed his mind about presidential character.

Whatever one thinks about Grudem’s views of prophecy, it is worth noting that he does think that prophets are human and sometimes may be wrong. On page 69 of his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today he writes: “The prophet could err, could misinterpret, and could be questioned or challenged at any point.”

“Christianity Yesterday, Today, and Forever!”

11839-henry

Carl F.H. Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today

In 1962, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth came to George Washington University for a question and answer session with American religious leaders.  Carl F.H. Henry, the editor of Christianity Today magazine, was one of these leaders.  Here is how he described the meeting in his memoir, Confessions of a Theologian:

The university invited 200 religious leaders to a luncheon honoring Barth at which guests were invited to stand, identify themselves and pose a question.  A Jesuit scholar from either Catholic University or Georgetown voiced the first question.  Aware that the initial queries often set the mood for all subsequent discussion, I asked the next question.  Identifying myself as “Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today,” I continued: “The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.”  I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Service, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media.  If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility?  “Was is news,” I asked, “in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”

Barth became angry.  Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked, “Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience–largely nonevangelical professors and clergy–roared with delight.  When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse.  So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, ‘Yesterday, today, and forever.”  When further laughter subsided, Barth took up the challenge…

I thought about this encounter when I heard that court evangelical Ralph Reed recently called Christianity Today magazine “Christianity Yesterday” in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News.

Here is a taste of a Fox News story about the interview:

Ingraham Angle” host Laura Ingraham told Reed he was making his publication “irrelevant,” adding that the magazine has been gradually taking on a leftward bent since it was founded by the late evangelist Billy Graham in the 1950s. Earlier Friday, Graham’s son Franklin responded to Galli by saying his father proudly supported and voted for Trump in 2016, and by telling CBN that Billy Graham would be “disappointed” to hear what Galli said.

Reed somewhat echoed those sentiments, saying Galli may want to change the magazine’s name to “Christianity Yesterday.”

“You cannot imagine a publication more out of step with the faith community that it once represented,” he said.

“President Trump received 81% of the votes of evangelicals four years ago — the highest ever recorded. His job approval according to a recent poll by my organization — the Faith and Freedom Coalition — among U.S. Evangelical stands at 83%. That is a historic high.”

Read the rest here.

A few comments on Reed’s interview:

  1. Ralph Reed is no Karl Barth.  It is important to establish this up front.
  2. The folks at Christianity Today should take Reed’s comment about “Christianity Yesterday” as a compliment.  Christianity Today represents the historic Christian faith.  The court evangelicals and other members of the Christian Right seem to believe that Christianity began when Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority in 1979.
  3. Reed and the rest of the court evangelicals are scared to death that Mark Galli’s editorial at Christianity Today might peel evangelical votes away from Trump in 2020.  Remember, Reed is a politico.  His job is to spin the news to make sure his evangelical base is in line.
  4. I am continually struck by how court evangelicals justify their political choices with poll numbers rather than deep Christian thinking about political engagement.  Reed seems to be saying that if a significant majority of American evangelicals voted for Trump, think he is a good president, and believe he does not deserve impeachment, then he must be good for the country and the church. God must be on his side.  It seems to never cross Reed’s mind that 81% of American evangelicals might be wrong.  Let’s remember, for example, that the the majority of American evangelicals in the South thought slavery was a good idea.  My point here is not to compare Trump evangelicals to slaveholders, but to show that there is nothing sacred about an appeal to the majority.  Didn’t Jesus say something about the “narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13)? Wasn’t he out of step with the larger faith community of his day?
  5. If you follow the link to the actual interview you will hear Ralph Reed say “I don’t know this editor” in relation to Christianity Today editor Mark Galli.  The fact that Reed has never heard of Galli, and cannot even bring himself to call him by name, speaks volumes about the current divide within American evangelicalism.

Who is Leith Anderson?

Leith

He is the most influential evangelical in America that no one has ever heard of.  Check out Emma Green’s interview at The Atlantic with the retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

A taste:

Emma Green: I think people like you have ceded the ground to people like Robert Jeffress. Evangelicalism, in the mind of the public, is very much tilted toward people who are quite politically conservative. Especially in the past few years, more moderate or nonpolitical perspectives like your own have receded into the background. Does that trouble you at all?

Leith Anderson: It does—in the sense that, to me, evangelicalism is about faith. It’s not about politics. It’s a historic religious movement. And that’s not a popular message, in the midst of polarized politics.

I distinguish between politics and government. I was on President Obama’s advisory council. That was a government function, not a political one. If I were asked to pray at a government event, like a White House Easter breakfast, I would say yes to that. But when I was asked to pray at political conventions, I declined.

Green: Let me push you on that. The NAE is not necessarily a political organization, but politics has certainly been part of its history. George W. Bush spoke to the NAE during his 2004 reelection campaign and said the organization was “doing God’s work.” Ronald Reagan gave his famous 1983 “Evil Empire” speech to the NAE.

Anderson: I was six feet away from him.

Green: Did it not seem clear then that evangelicalism was becoming more of a political movement, or at least that it was being perceived that way?

Anderson: To my knowledge, I’ve never preached a sermon that most people would consider to be political. Actually, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a sermon talk much about politics.

I feel a pressure to portray evangelicals in terms of faith and beliefs. There’s something like 2,000 verses in the Bible that talk about the poor and the widow and the orphan and the homeless and the hungry. To me, that transcends politics. That’s what we believe, and that’s what we’ve got to do.

Or immigrants. With all the teachings in the Bible about the way you treat the stranger and the immigrant, have we taken strong positions on immigration reform and Dreamers? Yeah, we have. But I don’t see it driven primarily by current political issues. I see it driven primarily by what the Bible says.

Read the entire piece here.

Lancaster Online Covers the *Christianity Today* Editorial Calling for Trump’s Removal

Trump and Bible

Here is Earle Cornelius’s piece, including remarks from Greg Carey and yours truly:

Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, said Christianity Today’s editorial  offers cover for evangelicals who do not support the president.

“There have always been a reasonable number of conservatives and evangelicals  who haven’t approved of Trump,” he said. “Those evangelicals who don’t support Trump now can point … to an official institutional voice to say ‘See, it is possible to be an evangelical and to distrust this president.’ ”

John Fea,  professor of history at Messiah College and author of  “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” said Trump was not an early favorite among evangelicals in the 2016 primary elections.

He noted that the Christian Post, which now defends Trump, published an editorial in February 2016 under the headline “Trump is a scam. Evangelical voters should back away.”

But many evangelicals who once opposed Trump, now support him.

“Since then,” Fea said, “Trump has delivered for evangelicals. He has put the right people in the Supreme Court for them, he’s championed Israel, he has fought for religious liberty.”

Read the entire piece here.

Why Did Trump Attend a Southern Baptist Church on Christmas Eve?

Family Church

On Christmas Eve, Donald and Melania Trump attended an evangelical Southern Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.  The Family Church, which is surrounded by the campus of evangelical Palm Beach Atlantic University, appears to be a mainstream evangelical megachurch.  Its pastor, Jimmy Scroggins, appears to be a Southern Baptist of the Al Mohler variety  He holds a Ph.D from Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and worked as the Dean of Boyce College, Southern Seminary’s undergraduate wing.

In the past, the Trumps have attended Christmas Eve services at The Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea (Episcopal) in Palm Beach.  According to USA Today: “Bethesda-by-the-Sea, a towering Gothic revival style church surrounded by a courtyard and lavish gardens, has long championed liberal and social justice causes. The church was among the first to conduct gay marriages and has condemned the administration’s decision to reduce the number of refugees and allow states and local governments to reject refugees.”

It is also worth noting that Donald and Melania were married at The Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea.  Barron Trump was baptized at the church.

I can’t say with any degree of certainty why the Trumps decided to attend services at The Family Church on Christmas Eve.  Maybe they prefer a more contemporary worship style over a traditional Episcopalian service.  Maybe they prefer conservative evangelical theology over the liberal theology of the Protestant mainline.  Maybe they just wanted to try something different this year.

But it is hard not to be skeptical about the Trumps’ choice of church.  It is hard not to see his attendance at The Family Church as a way to strengthen his support among evangelical voters in the wake of the recent Christianity Today editorial calling for his removal.   I imagine that Donald Trump didn’t even know that The Family Church existed before he became president.  Call me a cynic, but Trump attended this church for political reasons.  His evangelical base took a huge hit last week. He needs to do everything possible to keep it strong as we approach November 2020.

And what about The Family Church?  I don’t know if Pastor Scroggins is a Trump supporter.  Pastor Scroggins does not seem like the kind of guy who wants to inject political controversy into his church on Christmas Eve.  I am not sure why his congregation applauded when Trump entered the service and sat in the third row.  After all, Christmas Eve is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, not the President of the United States.

There was probably nothing Pastor Scroggins could do about Trump’s arrival.  Evangelical churches are open to all people–even an impeached President.  I pray that Trump heard something in this service that touched his heart and prompted him to be a better person.  Indeed, the message of Christmas is a message to sinners in need of redemption.

But it is also important to realize that The Family Church was used by the Trump administration for political purposes.  The public story coming out of The Family Church on Christmas Eve was not the Incarnation, it was the arrival of a man who too many evangelicals have embraced as a political savior.

The *Pittsburgh Post-Gazette* on Evangelical Diversity in the Wake of the *Christianity Today* Editorial

Believe Me 3dHere is Peter Smith, one of the best religion reporters on the beat.  He gave me a chance to contribute to his piece:

Here is a taste:

These dynamics aren’t surprising to John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College and author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

Mr. Fea, an evangelical never-Trumper, dedicated his book “To the 19 percent,” alluding to the near-mythical “81 percent” figure often applied to white evangelical Trump voters in 2016 exit polls. 

Mr. Fea, whose arguments about Trump’s character and actions are similar to those cited by Christianity Today, said he got similarly varied and volatile reactions during his book tour in 2018. 

Some evangelicals disputed his arguments, saying Mr. Trump has delivered for evangelicals on long-sought policies, while other evangelicals supported him.

“What Christianity Today did was give voice [to the same kind of people] who came up to me and said, ‘Thank you, I know I’m not alone,’” Mr. Fea said.

They may still be largely alone — Mr. Fea isn’t expecting the editorial to cause a big shift among evangelicals. But given how close the 2016 election was, it may help shave off enough of Mr. Trump’s evangelical support to make a difference in 2020, he said.

And Christianity Today, whose cover stories in recent years have ranged from India and Thailand to Vietnam and Nigeria, is also looking at its broader constituency with diverse political views.

Mr. Fea said he’s heard “story after story” about American missionaries who face tensions with the local populace who assume that the missionaries fit the dominant political stereotype of American evangelicals. This editorial may help give them some distance, he said.

Gina A. Zurlo, co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, estimated that the United States has about 65 million evangelicals, more than any single country but dwarfed by the 355 worldwide as of 2015, with particularly large populations in Nigeria, China, Brazil and Ethiopia.

Read the entire piece here.  I appreciate Smith’s sensitivity to the global influence of Christianity Today.

Is the *Christianity Today* Editorial a Joseph Welch Moment?

A good friend recently suggested that Mark Galli’s editorial may be an evangelical “Joseph Welch” moment in the Trump presidency.

Joseph Welch was the lawyer for the U.S. Army during the McCarthy hearings. Get some more context here.

Now watch:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir!”

Here is conservative writer Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine:

The two core lessons of the past few years are therefore: (1) Trumpism has a real base of support in the country with needs that must be addressed, and (2) Donald Trump is incapable of doing it and is such an unstable, malignant, destructive narcissist that he threatens our entire system of government. The reason this impeachment feels so awful is that it requires removing a figure to whom so many are so deeply bonded because he was the first politician to hear them in decades. It feels to them like impeachment is another insult from the political elite, added to the injury of the 21st century. They take it personally, which is why their emotions have flooded their brains. And this is understandable.

But when you think of what might have been and reflect on what has happened, it is crystal clear that this impeachment is not about the Trump agenda or a more coherent version of it. It is about the character of one man: his decision to forgo any outreach, poison domestic politics, marinate it in deranged invective, betray his followers by enriching the plutocracy, destroy the dignity of the office of president, and turn his position into a means of self-enrichment. It’s about the personal abuse of public office: using the presidency’s powers to blackmail a foreign entity into interfering in a domestic election on his behalf, turning the Department of Justice into an instrument of personal vengeance and political defense, openly obstructing investigations into his own campaign, and treating the grave matter of impeachment as a “hoax” while barring any testimony from his own people.

Character matters. This has always been a conservative principle but one that, like so many others, has been tossed aside in the convulsions of a cult. And it is Trump’s character alone that has brought us to this point. That’s why the editorial in the Evangelical journal Christianity Today is so clarifying. Finally — finally — an Evangelical outlet telling the truth in simple language:

[President Trump] has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused … To the many Evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve.

It is this profound immorality that made this week inevitable. Yes, inevitable. Put a man of this sort — utterly unprepared, utterly corrupt, and with no political or governing experience at all — into the Oval Office, and impeachment, if there is any life left in our democracy, is inevitable.

Read the rest here.

The Politics Editor at *The Christian Post* Resigns

Nazz

Napp Nazworth, the politics editor at The Christian Post website, announced on Twitter that he has resigned:

The executive editor of The Christian Post is court evangelical Richard Land. (Click here to read our past posts on Land). Members of the editorial advising team include Princeton professor Robert George and court evangelicals Harry R. Jackson, Johnnie Moore (who touts himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonheoffer [sic]), and Samuel Rodriguez.

Nazworth is referring to an editorial, written by Land and Managing Editor John Grano, titled “Christianity Today and the problem with “Christian Elitism.”

Here is a taste of that editorial:

You may think Trump is a narcissistic, morally challenged, belligerent cad who has no business being president — except for the pesky constitutional fact that over 60 million American voters elected him to it. You may see Trump as a modern day Cyrus, the Persian king who did God’s bidding in assisting in the restoration of Jerusalem. You may think Trump is a Samson-like hero called to realign the Supreme Court, to redirect the economy toward the American worker, and/or to tear down the pillars of Deep State corruption in modern Washington. But whatever you think — and however you vote — America will certainly survive and is, in significant ways, thriving under a Trump presidency — even if it lasts another four years.

However, our religious and other freedoms will not long survive a government of elites so convinced of their superiority that they are willing to compromise constitutional due process, after illegally manipulating the nation’s national security and law enforcement apparatus behind the scenes, to depose a duly-elected sitting president — all the while declaring arrogantly to the American people that it is for their own good.

These are the fellow travelers that Christianity Today is clearly aligning itself with at this critical juncture in our nation’s history. CT’s op-ed does not represent evangelical Christianity today, yesterday or in the future. After all, a majority of Trump’s evangelical support has been triggered by his opponents’ advocating policies that make him appear to be, at the very least, the lesser of two evils in a binary contest.

CT’s disdainful, dismissive, elitist posture toward their fellow Christians may well do far more long-term damage to American Christianity and its witness than any current prudential support for President Trump will ever cause.

Read the rest here.

I am saddened that Napp Nazworth has become a victim of this.  I have never met him, but over the years he has republished a lot of my writing at The Christian Post.  I respect him for his courage.  If only more evangelicals and GOP members of Congress had the same courage.

In June 2017, I warned that Donald Trump would change the landscape of American Christianity.  It is happening.

Should Churches Speak-Out Against Trump in the Same Way that *Christianity Today* Has Done?

Church

John Haas of Bethel University (IN) responds on Facebook to my post “Civility and the Search for Common Ground Are Important, But Sometimes We Need a Prophetic Witness“:

So, if this “spade” is what you say, is it enough for para-church institutions such as CT to call it out, or must churches not do the same? Let’s be frank: Most evangelical churches are doing what CT says it can no longer do–dodge the unpopular task of actually drawing a line–and they’re doing so in large part for reasons that have to do with protecting the institution as a going concern.

Indeed, I think it’s the case that we are where we are now–the 81%–because so many churches have been doing that all along. At best they insinuate at the line during sermons, but they don’t draw it so explicitly as to make it offensive.

Should the preaching of the Gospel at this time be *offensive* (not just to Trump supporters, but others too, of course)?

Good question. I think the primary role of churches is to bear witness to the Gospel and help form the faithful in Christian teaching. In other words, speaking out on politics is not the church’s primary role.

A magazine, it seems, is something different.  The church should engage the political culture, but it will often do so by addressing the symptoms–power, fear, idolatry, etc.–that might lead members of the congregation to support someone like Trump. Each church will do this in different ways and in accordance with their local circumstances. A magazine such as CT will put out a position based on clear Christian thinking and then local pastors who agree with that position can translate it to their congregations as they deem appropriate.  It seems like there must always be a pragmatic dimension to all of this.

But I need to think about this some more. Is there a way to be prophetic and “offensive” from the pulpit without diving directly into the specifics or naming names?  Or should pastors be naming the name of Trump?

The Court Evangelicals Feel Betrayed By *Christianity Today*

Court

Last night I re-read the court evangelical letter to Tim Dalrymple, the CEO of Christianity Today.  Read the letter here.  I offered some commentary here.

I was struck by this passage (italics mine):

Of course, it’s up to your publication to decide whether or not your magazine intends to be a voice of evangelicals like those represented by the signatories below, and it is up to us and those Evangelicals like us to decide if we should subscribe to, advertise in and read your publication online and in print, but historically, we have been your readers

Many of these court evangelicals are older white men.  They probably read Christianity Today in the 1960s and 1970s when it was (arguably) the voice of American evangelical Christianity.  They now feel betrayed by this flagship magazine.  I sense this feeling of betrayal in the letter.

Many of the signers of this letter have said, in other venues, that Christianity Today is no longer relevant.  It no longer speaks for most evangelicals. Mark Galli’s editorial does not represent a crack in evangelical support for Donald Trump.  We should not take it seriously.

In some respects, the court evangelicals are correct.  Christianity Today no longer speaks for the evangelical movement in the way that it once did.  An evangelical consensus on social and political issues is hard to find these days.  American evangelicalism has experienced the age of fracture just like everyone else in the United States.  This fracturing is enhanced by social media and the Internet.

So why are the court evangelicals so concerned about Galli’s editorial and the magazine’s “planting of the flag?”  While there are certainly (and primarily) political reasons for their dissent, Christianity Today’s history and legacy also has something to do with it.  The evangelical world is changing. Even Christianity Today has gone south.  Galli’s editorial feeds this declension narrative and makes the phrase “Make America Great Again” all the more appealing.

Is Evangelicalism Populist? Should it Be?

Noll Scandal

After I wrote my recent post on Chris Gehrz’s treatment of evangelical populism, I pulled Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind off the shelf.  Some critics of Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editoral have suggested that evangelicalism has always been a populist movement.  Matthew Schmitz, for example, claims that evangelicals cease being evangelical when they break from its populist, anti-intellectual base.

Noll has some things to say about this premise.

For example, evangelicalism has a rich intellectual heritage:

p.4: Modern evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to the mind. Most of the original Protestant traditions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican) either developed a vigorous intellectual life or worked out theological principles that could (and often did) sustain penetrating, and penetratingly Christian, intellectual endeavor.  Closer to the American situation, the Puritans, the leaders of the eighteenth-century evangelical awakening like John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, and a worthy line of North American stalwarts in the nineteenth century–like the Methodist Francis Asbury, the Presbyterian Charles Hodge, the Congregationalist Moses Stuart, and the Canadian Presbyterian George Monro Grant, to mention only a few–all held that diligent, rigorous mental activity was way to glorify God.  None of them believed that intellectual activity was the only way to glorify God, or even the highest way, but they all believed in the life of the mind, and they believed in it because they were evangelical Christians.

But the populism of the 19th and 20th-century have led to the “scandal of the evangelical mind”:

p.12: To put it simply, the evangelical ethos [at the time Noll wrote in 1994] is activist, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian.  It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.”

p.23: For an entire Christian community to neglect, generation after generation, serious attention to the mind, nature, society, the arts–all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory–may be, in fact, sinful.

p.24: Fundamentalism, dispensational premillennialism, the Higher Life movement, and Pentecostalism were all evangelical strategies of survival in response to the religious crises of the late nineteenth century.  In different ways each preserved something essential for Christian faith.  But together they were a disaster for the life of the mind.’

It is telling how many court evangelicals come from these traditions.

More from Noll on the scandal:

p.52: …Manicheans divided the world into two radically disjointed sections–the children of light and the children of darkness.  Evangelicals have often promoted a Manichen attitude by assuming that we, and only we, have the truth, while nonbelievers, or Christian believers who are not evangelicals, practice only error.

p.71: The long-term effects of evangelical republicanism in America was to short-circuit political analysis.  So deeply entwined were republican and Christian themes that there seemed to be no need for reexamining the nature of politics itself.  It could simply be assumed that the American way was the Christian way.

p,124: One of the additional consequences from the dogmatic kind of biblical literalism that gained increasing strength among evangelicals toward the end of the nineteenth century was reduced space for academic debate, intellectual experimentation, and nuanced discrimination between shades of opinion. 

p. 125: …the fundamentalist movement reinforced the dogmatic power of populist teachers.  With the universities and their formal learning suspect, the spokesperson who could step forth confidently on the basis of the Scriptures was welcomed as a convincing authority.

This quote sums up much of what we see today–25 years later–in American evangelicalism’s embrace of Donald Trump.

p.141: In general responses to crises, evangelicals in the late twentieth century still follow a pathway defined at the start of the twentieth century.  When faced with a crisis situation, we evangelicals usually do one of two things.  We either mount a public crusade, or we retreat into an inner pious sanctum.  That is, we are filled with righteous anger and attempt to recoup our public losses through political confrontation, or we eschew the world of mere material appearances and seek the timeless consolations of the Spirit.

And this:

p.173: Whatever happens in the practicalities of American political development, however, evangelicals will almost certainly continue to exhibit in one form or the other, the activism, biblicism, intuition, and populism that had defined evangelicals for more than two centuries.  If they repeat the imbalances of their history, evangelical political action may be destructive and other political reflection nonexistent.

I think Mark Galli is a champion of the evangelical mind who knows what happens when Christians stop thinking deeply about politics.  He is concerned about what happens to the church when anti-intellectual populism gets out of control.

Are Trump’s Evangelical Critics Elitist? The Pietist Schoolman Reflects on Evangelical Populism

2nd Great

After Mark Galli published a Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump, several pundits accused Galli of betraying the populist roots of American evangelicalism.  Galli, in other words, is an out of touch elitist.

Read court evangelical Johnnie Moore’s recent piece at Religion News Service.

Read Carl Trueman’s recent piece at First Things. (I responded to it here).

Read Matthew Schmitz’s piece at The New York Post.  (I responded to it here).

It is worth noting that these articles have little to do with the merits of Trump’s impeachment.  Nor do they address any problems with Trump’s character that might lead evangelicals to reject the president.  Instead, these articles try to interpret the editorial, and Galli, through the lens of class.  Galli and Christianity Today do not represent ordinary evangelicals.  As a result, we can’t take the editorial seriously.

Chris Gehrz, the Bethel University history professor and author of the blog The Pietist Schoolman, has written a nice piece on evangelical populism that is worth your time. It engages with Moore and Schmitz.
|
Here is a taste of “The Problems and Possibilities of Evangelical Populism“:

2. Which populace defines populism?

Donald Trump likes to present himself as a populist, but he has generally been one of the least popular first-term presidents in American history. Even after a recent bump, he’s still 10 points more unfavorable than favorable in Five Thirty Eight‘s composite poll. He’s particularly disliked by certain groups within American society, including women and persons of color.

If evangelical populism is meant to empower ordinary evangelicals, then it had better address the concerns of three of the most important, most often ignored groups within evangelicalism: women (55% of all evangelicals in America), persons of color (22% and growing fast), and non-American evangelicals (the lion’s share of the world total).

Rather than just reflecting the passions of the white men who compose Trump’s base of support, genuine evangelical populists would join CT president Tim Dalrymple in lamenting that evangelicals are “associated with President Trump’s rampant immorality, greed, and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees; and more.” They would stop waving aside Trump’s misogyny and ask how much it taps into the sexism too often found within evangelical communities.

Finally, truly evangelical populists would look beyond the American nation to recognize that most evangelicals live elsewhere — often in places already being affected by the climate crisis that the Trump administration and its Christian enablers casually deny. “If we shift our gaze from the U.S. political right,” writes David Fitzpatrick, to look at evangelicals of color in this country and beyond it, “we can see an alternative tradition of evangelicalism that embraces social, economic, environmental and racial justice.”

Read the entire piece here.

Civility and the Search for Common Ground Are Important, But Sometimes We Need a Prophetic Witness

CT

Here is Baylor University professor and Christian public intellectual Alan Jacobs on Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today calling for the removal of Donald Trump.

I want him out. I was happy to see him impeached and I would dance for joy if he were to be removed from office. But I think the task of Christianity Today is to inform and educate its readers about the theological and moral commitments that should govern Christian thinking about politics, not to endorse or decry specific acts of governance about which Christians, and the American electorate more generally, are deeply divided. A magazine like CT should be focused on helping people to “take every thought captive for Christ,” not telling them which side to take on this or any other partisan issue. Now there’s one less venue where Christians with political disagreements can come together in a common cause. That doesn’t feel like a win to me.

Taking a side, even the right side, isn’t always the best thing to do. There ought to be some magazines, and some institutions, and some people, focused instead on laying the groundwork for better days to come, and that requires inviting into the tent some people in your community whom you think are deeply misguided.

Jacobs’s remarks make sense if we are talking about any other U.S. president.  I think Trump is different.  Yes, as I have argued before, he is the logical conclusion of a long history of unhealthy evangelical political habits.  But he is also unique, and not in a good way.  We have not seen anything like him before.  It is hard to perceive him as a participant in the democratic game when he has proven over and over again that he does not care about the rules.  He does not belong on the playing field.

I realize that the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump are not a monolithic block.  Many of these Trump voters were not happy with their vote in 2016, but they thought a vote for the Donald was necessary considering the alternative.  Of course these voters are partially to blame for giving Trump his bully pulpit.  But I understand why they supported him in 2016.  Many of these evangelicals are my friends, family members, and fellow church-goers.  Many of them are regular readers of this blog.  I continue to fellowship with them, argue with them, and try to find common ground.

But there is another kind of Trump evangelical out there who makes fellowship and the quest for common ground difficult.  These evangelicals refuse to condemn him for his immorality. They believe and tolerate his lies. They often fail to recognize facts when they see them.  They went on television and other media outlets to defend Trump after Charlottesville.  They defended Trump when he separated families at the border.  They join him in the ugly demonization of his political enemies.  They attend Trump rallies and cheer his every word.  They believe we should “Make America Great Again.”  They think that Donald Trump is the new King Cyrus.  They believe he has a special anointing from God.  They seek political power as a way of advancing Christian nationalism.  Their view of the world is formed more by Fox News than the teachings of the Bible.

Jacobs thinks that the purpose of Christianity Today is to “inform and educate its readers about the theological and moral commitments that should govern Christian thinking about politics, not to endorse or decry specific acts of governance about which Christians, and the American electorate more generally, are deeply divided.”  This is fair.  And in virtually every other case I would agree.  Indeed, Christianity Today has always informed and educated readers along the lines Jacobs suggests. It will continue to do so.  I also imagine that Christianity Today will continue to publish articles in opposition to abortion and in support of traditional marriage.  I fully expect the magazine to engage the difficult issues of religious liberty.  I think it is safe to say that Christianity Today will continue to wrestle with the big questions of American public and moral life and invite contributors who represent different Christian viewpoints informed by reason, facts, and intelligent engagement.

Civility is always important.  We need to cultivate it in our neighborhoods, communities, and churches.  We must always work for reconciliation between Christians in the places where God has placed us.  Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do on this front.

But sometimes we need a prophetic witness.  Someone in the evangelical community had to stand up and “call a spade a spade.”  I am glad it was Mark Galli and Christianity Today.

This Reminds Me of What I Heard Every Night on the *Believe Me* Book Tour

Believe Me 3d

Christianity Today’s CEO Tim Dalrymple responding to critics of Mark Galli’s recent editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump:

Reader responses to Mark Galli’s recent editorial have spanned the spectrum. We have received countless notes of encouragement from readers who were profoundly moved. They no longer feel alone. They have hope again. Many have told us of reading the editorial with tears in their eyes, sharing it with children who have wandered from the faith, rejoicing that at last someone was articulating what they felt in their hearts. They felt this was a watershed moment in the history of the American church—or they hoped it would prove to be. Stay strong, they told us, knowing we were about to reap the whirlwind.

I know some of these people.  I met them when I was on the road with Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. I am glad that those in the 19% are finding their voice!

Christianity Today CEO Tim Dalrymple Responds to Critics

Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

Christianity Today plants the flag:

We nevertheless believe the evangelical alliance with this presidency has done damage to our witness here and abroad. The cost has been too high. American evangelicalism is not a Republican PAC. We are a diverse movement that should collaborate with political parties when prudent but always standing apart, at a prophetic distance, to be what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the conscience of the state.” That is what we believe. This is where we plant our flag. We know we are not alone.

Read it all here.