On Israel, Great Awakenings, and absurdly bad court evangelical “history”

Is Bob Mathias’s 1948 Gold Medal linked in some way to Israeli statehood?

Mike Evans is one of the lesser known court evangelicals. One of America’s leading Christian Zionists, Evans recently founded the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to celebrate the “everlasting bond between the Jewish and Christian peoples.” When Donald Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Evans enthusiastically told the Christian Broadcasting Network that when he next saw Trump in the Oval Office he would say to him: “Cyrus, you’re Cyrus. Because you’ve done something historic and prophetic.”

Evans believes that Trump was a modern-day Cyrus who has made possible the restoration of Jerusalem and the further confirmation of Israel’s future role in biblical prophecy. Because of Trump’s actions, Evans affirms, the blessing of God will come upon America. This decision made America great in the eyes of God. It also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals.

Evans also believes that American support for Israel will result in a spiritual revival in evangelical churches. He knows such a revival is coming because, as he says in a recent article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website, it has apparently happened before. Evans says:

  1. When America supported Israeli independence and statehood in 1948, Billy Graham came on the scene.
  2. When the United States supported Israel in the Six-Day War (1967), the “Jesus People” “revival” broke-out in Southern California, thousands of college students gathered in Dallas in 1972 for an event described as the “Christian Woodstock,” and the Catholic Charismatic Movement began.
  3. Now, with the so-called “Abraham Accord” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed, Evans says we can expect another revival.

I don’t know if we will see another spiritual revival, but Evans’s theory seems to suggest that the emergence of Billy Graham, the rise of the Jesus People, the Catholic Charismatic Movement, and Explo ’72 all had something to do with U.S. Middle East policy. But Evans doesn’t go far enough. Doesn’t he know that Bob Mathias’s victory in the decathlon at the 1948 Summer Olympics and the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike were also connected to U.S. support of Israel? 🙂

Moreover, one could argue that none of these aforementioned movements or events (Graham, Jesus People, Charismatics, Explo ’72) were “great awakenings.”

I am continually intrigued by evangelicals’ recent fascination with “great awakenings.”

Read Evans’s piece at CBN here.

Post COVID-19: religious revival or religious recession?

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Last month, when I was writing my series “Three Sundays in April,” I commented on how court evangelical preachers Greg Laurie, Robert Jeffress, and Jack Graham were predicting a great spiritual revival as soon as Americans came out of quarantine and started attending church again.

But David Gibson, the director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, wonders if COVID-19 will actually lead to “religion recession” in America.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion & Politics:

The future of our national religious life is also the subject of growing speculation, with the sunny-side-up view arguing that we are primed for a new “Great Awakening” of the sort that have periodically transformed American culture.

This revival will be spurred, the thinking goes, by a flood of Americans who ache for a return to communal worship that has been denied them for months. They will be joined by newcomers who, chastened by this national memento mori, discover or rediscover the balm of faith. “Could a plague of biblical proportions be America’s best hope for religious revival?” Robert Nicholson wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “[T]here is reason to think so.” Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution had the same question: “It could also go the other way,” he tweeted, “but my instinct is to think that a great awakening is now *more* likely, at least in America, by 2050.”

To many, the prospect of a resurgence in religious observance is an enticing vision, because faith communities can be anchors of social solidarity, which has been steadily eroding for decades.

The data and history tell a different story, however, and, much like the economic outlook, the forecast for religion looks more like recession than resurrection.

Read the entire piece here.

Also see Yonat Shimron’s piece at Religion News Service: “Survey: Most Americans aren’t comfortable going back to religious services.

Maybe Robert Jeffress and His Fellow Court Evangelicals are Missing the Revival Happening Right Before Their Eyes

Watch Jeffress appearance tonight with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business News:

We did some math. Jeffress spoke for a total of 169 seconds. He spent 8 seconds talking about race in America. He spent 161 seconds praising Donald Trump and law and order.

People like Robert Jeffress are always praying for a revival in the church. Perhaps what is happening right now in the streets of America is a wake-up call to the church. Perhaps God is pointing out the sin of racism structurally embedded in American culture and institutions. Perhaps the real purpose of all of this is not “law and order” but social healing. Perhaps Jeffress and his court evangelicals are missing this movement of God. Maybe God is bringing a revival in an unexpected way, or at least unexpected for white Christians. Perhaps.

Jeffress calls St. John’s Church “the most historic church in America.” I am sure the good folks at Trinity Church in New York, Christ Church in Philadelphia, Sixteenth-Street Baptist Church in Birmingham,  the Jamestown Church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and a host of Catholic missions might give St. John’s a run for its money.  Maybe it’s the most “historic” because Jeffress preached there on the day of Trump’s inauguration. He seems to bring that up in every interview.

The Third Great Evangelical Awakening is Here and Donald Trump is Leading It

Believe Me 3dDonald Trump claims that his impeachment is “electrifying” the evangelical churches.  He talks as if he is somehow responsible for a religious revival that is apparently influencing “hundreds of thousands” of people.  Hallelujah!  It is the Third Great Awakening!

Watch:

Here is a question to consider:  Is Trump right?  Are people joining churches because they want to rally around the president during this impeachment crisis?  If so, what does this say about American evangelicalism?

Why do so many evangelicals support Trump?  I tried to answer this question in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It will appear in paperback in January 2020, just in time for primary season.  In the meantime, check out the book’s recently updated website.

I’m open for some more book talks or lectures in the wake of the paperback release.  Let me know if you are interested in setting something up for Winter, Spring or Summer 2020.

The Author’s Corner with Marie Dallam

51+rCcs4muL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Marie Dallam is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma Honors College. This interview is based on her new book, Cowboy Christians (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Cowboy Christians?

MD: When I first I moved to Oklahoma to teach at the university, I saw an ad in the paper for “cowboy church.” I could not imagine what that was, or what it meant, and in pursuit of an answer I realized that no one had done any academic work on it. So, the project just kind-of presented itself to me. The more I delved into cowboy church, the more the project expanded, so ultimately the book is as much about religious history among cowboy culture people as it is about the present-day cowboy church movement. The project also became a great way for me to learn about this region of the country, by driving all over Oklahoma and Texas and meeting people from communities who I would not normally encounter.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Cowboy Christians?

MD: Cowboy church is a noteworthy revival movement within American evangelicalism today. By considering aspects of its impetus, structure, atmosphere, and development, I am able to contextualize it in relation to other significant religious forms of both the past and present, including muscular Christianity, the Jesus movement, new paradigm churches, and new religious movements.

JF: Why do we need to read Cowboy Christians?

MD: American evangelicalism is particularly good at reinventing itself, and exploring its many twists and turns helps us to understand larger patterns of theological and institutional religious development in the United States. The cowboy church movement is one such twist, but until now it has largely flown under the radar of critical study. In addition to history and analysis, I include a number of stories about my experiences of attending and meeting people at cowboy Christian events, which makes the book a more engaging and personal read.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Of if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

MD: I am a historian of American religion. I’m particularly fascinated by alternative forms of religious belief and practice, especially groups that have been socially marginalized. When we—as a society, and/or as scholars—overlook these kinds of communities, it curtails our ability to truly understand the development of religion in the United States. So my goal as a historian is to preserve the record of religious minorities of all sorts.

JF: What is your next project?

MD: I cannot say what my next “big” project is. But for the short term, I will be working on some research related to the history of Susan Parrish Wharton’s social gospel work in Philadelphia around the turn of the 20th century. It’s a smaller project that I began about a decade ago, and from which I got sidetracked. I would like to finally finish it!

JF: Thanks, Marie!

The Author’s Corner with Robert Caldwell

TheologiesoftheAmericanRevivalistsRobert Caldwell is Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This interview is based on his new book, Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP Academic, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Ever since my seminary days, I have been fascinated at the interplay between theology and Christian experience or spirituality, most specifically related to Christian conversion. As a scholar working on the First and Second Great Awakenings, I found that many revivalists had a well-developed theology that combined soteriology (doctrine of salvation) with insights related both to how Christian conversion was supposed to be experienced and how the gospel is to be proclaimed. I found that from 1740-1840 there was a rich genre of literature that combined these three elements, which collectively I call “revival theology.” 

Evangelical churches today have given little theological reflection to the nature of Christian conversion and revival. Much of what they do understand is practically oriented and often pre-theological. In this book I examine the numerous schools of theology that evangelicals employed at a time when there was much more theological writing and preaching on the subject. My hope is that Christians today will be both informed and challenged by the various schools of thought presented in the book.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Theologies of the American Revivalists argues that American revivalists from the First and Second Great Awakenings (1740-1840) thought, preached, and wrote extensively on what I call “revival theology,” which I define as the three-fold combination of Protestant soteriology, conversion expectations, and preaching practices associated with revival. The book identifies, explores, and charts the historical theological developments of the various different schools of revival theology of the period, with specific attention given to the major controversies and writers.

JF: Why do we need to read Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Revivals have been a fundamental feature of American evangelicalism. My hope is that the book has faithfully explored the multiple theological traditions that have undergirded the revivals of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Theologians and historians will find an in-depth account these various theological traditions and practices. General Christian readers will hopefully come to appreciate the theological backgrounds to evangelical revivals and see just how deep the interplay is between theology and corporate Christian practice. As I mention in the introduction, the book is “fundamentally a theological history about what it has meant to ‘become a Christian’ during the age of America’s Great Awakenings.” (10)

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

RC: I come to American history as a student of intellectual history and historical theology. I have always been fascinated by the interplay of thought and history. Numerous scholars shaped my work during my student days. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I was drawn to the history of science and Isaac Newton’s theology while taking several courses from Dr. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs in the late 1980s. When I went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School I benefitted greatly from courses by Drs. John Woodbridge and Douglas Sweeney, both of whom know how to situate theology deeply in its historical context. There, my interests shifted to the history of theology of American evangelicalism, especially that of Jonathan Edwards. Studying Edwards, his theology and legacy, as well as the First and Second Great Awakenings has required me to become more proficient as a historian. In many ways I still feel like I am becoming an American historian.

JF: What is your next project?

RC: I am working on two smaller projects now. The first deals with the lesser-known antinomian controversy that surfaced in the late 1750s upon the publication of James Hervey’s Theron and Aspasio in England (1755). The controversy involved a broad cross-section of American and English non-conformists: New Divinity and traditional Calvinists, Sandemanians, Radical revivalists, Moravians, Methodists, and English Particular Baptists. Another study addresses Jonathan Edwards’s assessment of Isaac Watts. Both Edwards and Watts attempted to do theology while simultaneously engaging the enlightenment. Edwards found Watts’s strategies for doing this woefully inadequate, even though he admired Watts in many ways. Both studies illuminate some of the lesser-known intramural debates that existed among early evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic.

JF: Thanks, Robert!