Pro-Trump evangelical Wayne Grudem responds to his “anti-Trump evangelical friend”

Below is what amounts to the video version of this piece and this piece.

This event occurs in a church. It is court evangelical Jack Hibbs’s Calvary Chapel of Chino Hill. This is essentially a pro-Trump political rally.

During the Q&A, Grudem says that he was unable to change his friend’s mind because “emotionally he doesn’t like Trump.” He also attacks “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” for “redefining” what it means to be “pro-life” in a way that moves beyond abortion. He adds that “there is no recognized academic leader in the evangelical world who is part of that movement.” Really? Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, is not a “recognized academic leader in the evangelical world?” Dennis Hollinger, former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is not a “recognized academic leader in the evangelical world?” Richard Foster? John Perkins?

What does Donald Trump really think about the court evangelicals?

Earlier this month we did a post about Trump allegedly calling evangelical beliefs “bulls–t.” Many court evangelicals rejected this story because it came from former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, a convicted criminal.

But now, thanks to the reporting of McKay Coppins at The Atlantic, we know that Cohen is not the only one who claims that Trump mocks evangelicals and their beliefs. Here is a taste of his recent piece:

The conservative Christian elites Trump surrounds himself with have always been more clear-eyed about his lack of religiosity than they’ve publicly let on. In a September 2016 meeting with about a dozen influential figures on the religious right—including the talk-radio host Eric Metaxas, the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, and the theologian Wayne Grudem—the then-candidate was blunt about his relationship to Christianity. In a recording of the meeting obtained by The Atlantic, the candidate can be heard shrugging off his scriptural ignorance (“I don’t know the Bible as well as some of the other people”) and joking about his inexperience with prayer (“The first time I met [Mike Pence], he said, ‘Will you bow your head and pray?’ and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I’m not used to it.”) At one point in the meeting, Trump interrupted a discussion about religious freedom to complain about Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and brag about the taunting nickname he’d devised for him. “I call him Little Ben Sasse,” Trump said. “I have to do it, I’m sorry. That’s when my religion always deserts me.”

And yet, by the end of the meeting—much of which was spent discussing the urgency of preventing trans women from using women’s restrooms—the candidate had the group eating out of his hand. “I’m not voting for Trump to be the teacher of my third grader’s Sunday-school class. That’s not what he’s running for,” Jeffress said in the meeting, adding, “I believe it is imperative … that we do everything we can to turn people out.”

The Faustian nature of the religious right’s bargain with Trump has not always been quite so apparent to rank-and-file believers. According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelicals are more than twice as likely as the average American to say that the president is a religious man. Some conservative pastors have described him as a “baby Christian,” and insist that he’s accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.

To those who have known and worked with Trump closely, the notion that he might have a secret spiritual side is laughable. “I always assumed he was an atheist,” Barbara Res, a former executive at the Trump Organization, told me. “He’s not a religious guy,” A. J. Delgado, who worked on his 2016 campaign, told me. “Whenever I see a picture of him standing in a group of pastors, all of their hands on him, I see a thought bubble [with] the words ‘What suckers,’” Mary Trump, the president’s niece, told me.

Greg Thornbury, a former president of the evangelical King’s College, who was courted by the campaign in 2016, told me that even those who acknowledge Trump’s lack of personal piety are convinced that he holds their faith in high esteem. “I don’t think for a moment that they would believe he’s cynical about them,” Thornbury said.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals refuse to learn from history. As I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is not the first time evangelicals got played by politicians in this way. Richard Nixon used Billy Graham. Ronald Reagan used Jerry Falwell Sr., Cal Thomas, and Ed Dobson. George W. Bush (or more accurately, Karl Rove) used the late David Kuo.

Today, the court evangelicals are empowering a narcissist, pathological liar, power-hungry wanna-be-tyrant who has probably done more harm to this country than any other American president. Yes, they got their Supreme Court justices and their Jerusalem embassy, but history will hold them accountable for their complicity. By November 3 they may very well be the only ones still clinging to this corrupt leader.

Trump lies every time he opens his mouth

The president is coming to my neck of the woods tonight–Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As he boarded the helicopter he had a few words with reporters. I counted at least four lies or misleading statements in less than ten minutes.

First, he said “we are leading in Pennsylvania.” Actually, Biden is leading every major poll.

Second, Trump said he was leading in Florida. Of seven major polls, Trump is leading in one of them (ABC News/Washington Post), he is tied in two of them (Reuters/Ipsos and Florida Atlantic), and trailing Biden in four polls.

Third, Trump criticized the Iowa Democratic “primary” for not knowing who won on election night (Feb. 3, 2020). “Many ballots were missing,” he said. This is impossible because Iowa has a “caucus,” not a “primary.” Ballots are not used.

Fourth, when asked about this Tuesday’s debate with Joe Biden, Trump said that Biden’s public appearances are “different each time” depending on if he is taking a “different medication.”

And evangelical theologian Wayne Gruden believes that Trump does not lie.

Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem believes that Trump does not tell lies. Also, anyone who believes Trump is trying to “divide us” is “bearing false witness”

Last December I wrote a post titled, “Wayne Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.” Grudem’s recent interview with World magazine has not changed my mind one bit.

Here is Grudem:

President Trump has made wise decisions regarding the coronavirus pandemic in the midst of misleading, lying information from China and conflicting advice from scientific and economic experts.

“Wise decisions”?

Trump knew the coronavirus was “deadly and airborne” and he refused to tell the American people about it. He held five rallies after he received word of the virus’s deadly nature and did little to address it in the early months. He says he banned travel from China, but this is misleading.

By downplaying the virus, Trump put lives in jeopardy and people died. He empowered anti-maskers and continues to hold mass rallies with no social distancing or masks. He has thousands, if not millions, of followers who think COVID-19 is a “fake.” Thoughtful evangelicals are calling him out for his anti-science views. He has taken medical advice from the My Pillow guy, pushed unproven drugs, and even said that bleach and household disinfectants might help stop the virus. While people die, Trump hawks beans, undermines the country’s chief immunologist, wants to discuss flavored vaping, and retweets game show hosts. Trump has placed his own political ambitions over science. And all the time he claims that he has “total authority.”

Wise decisions?

Grudem goes on:

On racial issues, his leadership led to an economy with the lowest black unemployment since we’ve been keeping records, with great gains among lower-income workers. He pushed for greater school choices in minority neighborhoods and stronger law enforcement to bring more safety to inner cities.

Seriously?

Was Grudem on another planet all summer? Trump is doing everything possible to ignore the cries of the African-American community in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Instead he denies the existence of systemic racism, rallies his white base by attacking critical race theory, connects violent protests to Black churches, says he wants to save the suburbs from rioters (most of whom are black), inspires white supremacists at national parks, retweets people yelling “white power,” and uses the Bible as a political prop to enforce “law and order” and stop a peaceful anti-racism protest. And this is just in the last six months. Let’s not forget Charlottesville, the NBA, and the NFL.

Grudem claims that anyone who says Trump is dividing the country is lying:

It’s bearing false witness against President Trump to say he seeks to divide us. He isn’t responsible for the rioting, the burning of cars, the blocking of public roads and sidewalks that began on day one of his presidency. No Americans legitimately have a fear of physical violence … for putting a Biden sticker on their car or wearing a Joe Biden campaign shirt or hat. But I know many evangelicals, including myself, who fear being physically attacked or shouted at if I were to put a Trump bumper sticker on my car or wear a MAGA or Trump-supporter hat in public.

Does Grudem really believe that Trump is not a divider? Trump has made almost no attempt to bring the country together. His entire presidency is about appealing to his base and hoping that they will give him another four years. To claim that Trump is not a divider, and then go as far to say that anyone who says he is a divider is “bearing false witness,” sounds like comical propaganda.

More Grudem:

I looked at The Washington Post’s list of what it calls 16,000-some “lies” Trump has spoken and examined 20 or 30 of them. They’re what I’d call conclusions drawn by a hostile interpreter of words that a sympathetic listener would understand in a positive way. President Trump is often not careful in some of the things he says. He is given to exaggeration. Sometimes he’s made a statement after being given inaccurate information. I’m not sure he’s ever intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false, which is how I define a lie. As you know, I have written an ethics textbook. I believe it’s never right to affirm X when you believe X is false. If someone wants to point out to me some actual Trump lies that fit that definition, I’d be happy to look at them. 

You can look at The Washington Post list of Trump lies and misleading statements and decide for yourself. Here a a list of just his coronavirus lies and misleading statements. Watch this:

Grudem’s claim about lying is interesting. He says that Trump has never “intentionally affirmed something he knows to be false.” Grudem may be right. Maybe Trump believes all the untruthful things he says are actually true. This may be worse than outright lying because it reveals his incompetence. But Wayne Grudem knows best: “you know, I have written an ethics textbook.” Or maybe he just received a prophetic word.

Here is more:

The Trump presidency has resulted in a stronger economy, stronger national defense, positive steps toward achieving border security, standing up to China and Russia, negotiating new trade agreements, advocating educational freedom, standing with Israel, strengthening our military, and reforming our judicial system. Those are all what seem to me to be evidence of God’s blessing on the nation with President Trump. If he wins again, I expect there will be more blessing on our nation. If Biden is elected, he’ll support abortion, cripple the economy, weaken our military, largely abandon Israel, select more judges who legislate from the bench, weaken religious freedom. We’ll have more crime, a complete federal takeover of our healthcare system, and much more that looks like the withdrawal of God’s blessing.

Not sure where to begin here. The economy is a mess. People are out of work. Russia is trying to undermine our elections. There is no wall.

The rest of Grudem’s statements here are Christian Right talking points that I have addressed over and over again at this blog and in Believe Me. Grudem has no proof that the things he mentions here will take place in a Biden presidency. Abortion, as I have said many times here, is actually declining in America and there is no reason to believe it will not continue to decline during a Biden presidency. Notice how Grudem invokes the idea that the United States is in a covenant relationship with God. This “New Israel” language goes all the way back to the 17th century Puritans in Massachusetts Bay. It is also fits well with Mike Pence’s 2 Chronicles 7:14 rhetoric.

Read the entire interview here.

Wayne Grudem is still defending Trump

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In the form of a letter from a young follower disturbed about this support for Trump, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem once again defends his support of the president. In a piece at Town Hall, he makes his case:

Grudem claims he is voting entirely on policy:

A few months ago, while the impeachment trial was going on, a younger faculty colleague asked me at lunch, “What would Trump have to do to make you stop supporting him?” My response was something like this: “I would stop supporting him if he began to favor higher taxes, more government regulation, a weaker military, open borders, judges who believed in a “living Constitution,” extended abortion rights, restrictions on freedom of religion, hostility toward Israel…

Later in the letter he says, “Can you understand that I am seeking to influence politics because of the Bible (italics are Grudem’s), because of my conviction that the Bible speaks to all of life.” He adds, “Don’t you think that Jesus wants his disciples to influence the world for good?”

Grudem is a Christian ethicist, theologian, and New Testament scholar. He knows that the Bible does not teach anything about tax policy, government regulation, borders, the U.S. Constitution, and freedom of religion. Grudem tells his young friend that he cares about how the Bible speaks to all of life. If this is true, and I believe it is, then Grudem needs to consider what the Bible says about life, peace, justice, love, care for the poor, creation, the role of good government, and welcoming strangers.  I can’t believe I need to say this to a guy who has been teaching Christian theology for decades. I have sat under his teaching.

Grudem then goes on to defend Donald Trump’s character:

At the heart of our disagreement is the fact that my evaluation of Donald Trump’s character is more positive than your evaluation. Can we least agree that the evaluation of a person’s character is a complex process that requires wise judgments based on a wide variety of factors, and that people can legitimately disagree in their honest assessments of someone else’s character?…

Do you really know what his motives are? It is appropriate to be cautious in speaking about another person’s motives. It is often difficult to know the motives in our own hearts regarding decisions that we make. And our evaluation of other people’s motives is influenced significantly by our previous opinions about them.

This argument may have held a tiny bit of water in 2016, but it no longer does. We have seen the heart of Donald Trump.

And then there is this:

What will Trump do in a second term? The best basis for predicting his conduct in a second term is his conduct for the past four years. If in a second term Donald Trump acts in the way he has acted in his first term, this will bring a continued strong economy, a strengthened military, better trade terms with other nations, a secure border, more originalist judges, stronger protections for unborn children, strong employment and wage growth, greater energy independence, greater school choice, more safety in inner cities, protection of religious freedoms, and greater liberty for Americans in general.

I do agree with Grudem’s second sentence in this paragraph.

Grudem does not like the left’s ad hominem arguments against Trump:

It has seemed to me recently that the strategy of the political left has been to deemphasize policy arguments (where their progressive policies cannot prevail in elections) and to focus their efforts on attacks against the person they are running against. To put it in simple terms, many prominent Democrats have shifted from arguing, “The Republican candidate has bad policies” to arguing, “The Republican candidate is a bad person.” (And even, “If you support Trump you are a bad person” – which stifles healthy political discussion.)

This approach has been helped by a shamefully biased mainstream media including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC. I receive a newsfeed each morning from the New York Times and the Washington Post, and their blatantly biased reporting reveals a hostility toward President Trump unlike anything I’ve seen regarding any other political leader in my lifetime.

I think it is pretty clear that the “Republican candidate” IS a “bad person.” This makes him bad for the country and bad for the church. Grudem’s claim that ad hominem attacks  on political candidates are only coming from the left make me wonder if he is even paying attention.

Finally, Grudem addresses his legacy:

You say that if I write another article in defense of Trump, “You will be tarnishing your theological legacy for the sake of a man who does not deserve it.”

I’m deeply aware that God has given me a positive reputation in much of the evangelical world, and I count that reputation as a stewardship from God. I’m deeply aware of the responsibility that comes with that stewardship. “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

But I have been thinking that God might want me to use whatever influence I have to help the country move in the right direction politically. When I think of the thousands of Americans who gave their lives to protect this country, it is a small thing to risk my “reputation.” In addition, supporting Trump by writing additional articles could cut both ways – it could improve my reputation with some people as well as damage it with others. Who knows? In any case, I don’t want to stand before God at the Last Day and have him ask why I did not use my reputation and my writing ability (that he gave me) to influence the United States for good when it was at a decisive turning point in history, and I would have to say, “But I was trying to protect my reputation.” 

Is God really going to judge Wayne Grudem based on how he was able to influence the United States for good? Is God going to judge Grudem for his commitment to originalist judges, a strong military, free-market economics, lower taxes, sanctions on China, opposing Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, stopping Washington D.C. from becoming a state, and a border wall?

Read the entire piece here.

What Happened to the Moral Clarity of Some American Evangelicals Between 2016 and 2020?

Trump and Bible

Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s recent story at The Washington Post adds to what I posted about  earlier this week (here and here).  Here are some new things we learn from her piece:

  •  Mohler’s son-in-law is a Trump appointee in the State Department.
  •  Dwight McKissic, a prominent African-American Southern Baptist pastor in Arlington, Texas, will no longer recommend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where Mohler serves as president) to African-American young people who want to attend seminary.
  • Karen Swallow Prior, a prominent voice in the evangelical community, has taken this moment to say that she will vote for a third-party candidate in November.
  • Wayne Grudem, a conservative evangelical theologian, praised Mohler’s decision. Grudem said, “It is hard for me to think of someone who’s done much good for the country in that short amount of time.  (I re-affirm what I said about Grudem back in December).

Some quick thoughts for my fellow evangelicals who will be changing their vote to Trump in November:

1. On abortion: I am still convinced (as I argued in Believe Me) that overturning Roe v. Wade and winning the federal courts will not end abortion in America. In a broken world, abortions will continue. We must work, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, to reduce them. As someone who cares about the dignity of human beings and the protection of the vulnerable unborn, I think expanded health care and poverty relief, both staples of the Democratic Party platform, will keep the number of abortions in America on a downward trajectory. As a Christian, I thank God for this downward trajectory and I want to do everything I can to keep lowering the number of abortions in America.

2. As someone who has watched and studied Trump every day of his presidency, I think his presidency has been a moral disaster–for the country and the church. Nothing has changed in four years. If anything, it has gotten worse. Trump has succeeded in weakening (even further) the moral clarity of American evangelicals. And not just the court evangelicals.

3. Religious liberty issues are real. I will continue to push for a more pluralist society in which Christian institutions are permitted to exercise their faith–even on sexual issues–with freedom. On the other hand, we can’t be afraid of persecution if and when it comes. We can’t turn to an immoral strongman to protect us. Perhaps persecution may be exactly what the church needs right now. I hope not. It doesn’t sound fun. But if this happens, Jesus promises that we will be “blessed.” It will reveal our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And if history is a guide, it just might draw more people to consider the Christian faith.

4. Mohler says in his video that his decision to vote for Trump in 2020 is based on his “Christian (or Biblical) worldview.”

What is this thing called “Christian worldview?” Here is the twitter feed of The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia:

Here is a friend on Facebook:

I love how targeting tax breaks towards the .01% and eliminating basic rights of worker protection, championing measures to exacerbate gross inequalities of income and generational wealth, eradicating by executive agency fiat already precarious regulations about not dumping chemicals in water, engaging in a non-stop campaign to demonize even the slightest efforts to increase access to health care, and engaging in deliberately targeted efforts at voter suppression (targeted against black voters “with an almost surgical precision,” as the North Carolina Supreme Court put it) is now defined as the “Christian worldview” in politics, while the other side is “anti-Christian.”

I agree with the idea of viewing the world from the perspective of Christian faith–all of Christian faith. But I object when “Christian worldview” is invoked in a narrow and limited way that focuses on one or two issues. The idea that a Christian approach to politics should center around abortion and Supreme Court nominations is a very new phenomenon in the history of American evangelicalism and, more broadly, in the history of the global church. It is only about forty years old. This does not mean that evangelical political witness was perfect before the rise of the Christian Right (for example, the evangelical movement’s commitment to the Civil Rights Movement was weak at best),  but it does suggest that Al Mohler’s understanding of political engagement was shaped, and continues to be shaped, by the concerns of a group of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists who developed a successful political movement in the late 1970s. Mohler even admits this in the video when he talks about his unswerving support of Ronald Reagan.

As I have argued, this approach to politics is rooted in fear, power, nostalgia. It is deeply rooted in the false idea that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation. It is deeply rooted in the idea that big government was a threat to local  practices such as segregation. It is deeply rooted in the belief that new immigrants posed a threat, and continue to pose a threat, to white America in the wake of the 1965 Immigration Act. It is deeply rooted in the idea that public schools should be teaching Christians about God and, when prayer and Bible reading was removed from public schools, somehow God was removed as well. (This, it seems, is a pretty small view of God and a pretty weak view of the church as a site of spiritual formation for young people).

If one believes that a Christian worldview means we should always vote for a candidate who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and defend the “rights” of evangelical Christians, then it makes perfect sense to vote for Trump.  What I am suggesting is that this entire playbook is too narrow and relies too much on fear, power politics, and nostalgia. It ignores the vast majority of Christian teaching, especially as it relates to the poor, social justice, and the care of God’s creation. This is ironic for someone like Mohler who no doubt believes that his Christian worldview is built upon a belief in an inerrant Bible.  All of those mentioned in Pulliam-Bailey’s article are operating under this mostly unbiblical playbook.

 

Wehner Takes on Grudem: “There Is No Christian Case for Trump”

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Trump defender Wayne Grudem

Today at The Atlantic, Peter Wehner writes “when faith is treated as an instrumentality , it’s bad for politics and worse for the Christian witness.”  Anyone who reads this blog, or has read Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, knows that I agree with him.  In this piece he engages Wayne Grudem’s criticism of Mark Galli’s December 2019 Christianity Today editorial.

Wehner is a fellow at the  Ethics and Public Policy Center.

A taste:

It isn’t enough for many of Trump’s evangelical supporters to say that, by their lights, he is advancing policies that promote the common good even as he is acting in unethical ways that deeply trouble them. In that difficult trade-off, they could admit, they have decided that the former should take priority over the latter. Instead, they have created a cartoonish image of the president, pretending that his character flaws are trivial and inconsequential, while his policy achievements put him near the top rank of American presidents.

What’s most interesting to me in all this is the psychology at play. From what I can tell, in many cases Trump’s most devoted evangelical supporters are blind to what they’re doing, so in a sense they’re not acting cynically or in bad faith, even as they are distorting reality.

I have observed firsthand that if you point out facts that run counter to their narrative, some significant number of the president’s supporters will eventually respond with indignation, feeling they have been wounded, disrespected, or unheard. The stronger the empirical case against what they believe, the more emotional energy they bring to their response. Underlying this is a deep sense of fear and the belief that they are facing an existential threat and, therefore, can’t concede any ground, lest they strengthen those they consider to be their enemies. This broader phenomenon I’m describing is not true of all Trump supporters, of course, and it is hardly confined to Trump supporters. But I would say that in our time, it is most pronounced among them.

I wish it were otherwise. When I started my Christian journey, at the end of high school, I never assumed that Christians would escape human foibles and human frailties. But I thought that faith would have more power, including more transformative power, than I have often witnessed, and that followers of Jesus would (imperfectly) allow a faith ethic to shape their understanding of things. That more than most, they would speak truth to power. Too often, they have denied truth in order to gain and keep power.

That isn’t to say I haven’t witnessed many lives that have been transformed by faith, including lives that have deeply touched and shaped my own. But neither can I deny what I have seen, which is that, especially in politics, the Christian faith is far too often subordinated to ideology, to tribalism, to dehumanizing those in the other tribe. Faith is an instrumentality, something to be weaponized. That’s bad for politics; it’s worse for the Christian witness.

Read the entire piece here.

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

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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.”

Wayne Grudem Lives in a Different Moral Universe Than I Do

Grudem

In case you missed it, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem has turned to the politically conservative website Townhall to defend Donald Trump and criticize Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.

Grudem begins:

Galli gives six reasons why Trump should be removed, either by impeachment or at the next election: (1) He attempted to “coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents,” and this was “a violation of the Constitution.” (2) This action was also “profoundly immoral.” (3) “He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals.” (4) He has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women,” and he “remains proud” about these things. (5) His Twitter feed contains a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and this makes it “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Finally, (6) although the president has admittedly done some good things, “none of the president’s positives” can outweigh his “grossly immoral character.” Later he says that Trump has a “bent and broken character” and is guilty of “gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”

He concludes by warning evangelicals who support Trump not to “continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency,” because this will damage “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the gospel.”

These are strong words indeed. But are they true? Consider them in order:

(1) Did Trump violate the Constitution? 

Here is Grudem:

Regarding the Constitution, I claim no specialized expertise or legal knowledge. Like Galli himself, on this point I write as an interested citizen, not a legal expert. But I read in the Constitution that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Art. II, Sec. 1, 3). That implies the president is empowered to investigate allegations of illegal activity. And (I speak here as an ordinary citizen, not an expert) I know of nothing in our Constitution or laws that says there is anything wrong with seeking help from a foreign government in investigating possible corruption. 

“Oh, but the situation is different because Biden is a political opponent and President Trump was asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden for the sake of personal political benefit,” some critics have objected.

My response is that I see nothing wrong with the president doing things that will bring him personal, political benefit. In fact, I expect that every president in the history of the United States has done things that bring him personal political benefit every day of his term. It is preposterous to claim that it is unconstitutional for the president to act in a way that is politically beneficial. In addition to that, when someone announces that he is running for political office, that does not mean he can no longer be investigated for prior wrongdoing. The opposite should be true.

If I read Grudem correctly, he seems to be suggesting that Donald Trump did indeed act out of self-interest when he called the president of Ukraine.  At least he admits it. This makes his argument different from many court evangelicals.  Grudem sounds more like Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who told reporters that Trump did engage in a quid pro quo (“we do that all the time”) and we should all just “get over it.”  Grudem seems to be suggesting that it was perfectly fine for Trump to investigate a political opponent in this way.  While Grudem is right about the self-interest of past presidents, this particular president’s self interest was an attempt to get a foreign country to interfere with an election and undermine the democratic process.

Even Jonathan Turley, the George Washington law professor who testified in opposition to impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee, said that if Trump acted out of political self-interest his call was an impeachable offense.  Turley’s primary concern was that the the Democrats in the House did not yet have enough evidence to make a case for impeachment.  And of course, the other three law professors who testified, over 500 more law professors, and more than 2000 historians have also argued that what Trump did was an impeachable offense.

I am afraid that Wayne Grudem, a man who I took a course with as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School,  is out of his league here.

(2) Was Trump’s phone call “profoundly immoral”?

Grudem writes:

But is it wrong to investigate possible wrongdoing by someone’s political opponent? Apparently the Democrats do not think so, because the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has been investigating President Trump for the entire past year. I do not see how it could be “profoundly immoral” to request information about possible corruption on the part of Joe Biden. I do not even see how it could be “minimally immoral,” and certainly not “profoundly immoral.” 

Once again, Grudem shows a lack of understanding about how the government works. In the United States we have separation of powers.  Congress is a check against the power and potential tyranny of the Executive Branch.  It is the duty of Congress to investigate the president.  Perhaps Grudem remembers when the House investigated Bill Clinton in 1998. Grudem had a lot to say about presidential character in those days.  In the end, the House was doing its duty in 1998 and it is doing its duty now.  Will there be a partisan dimension to impeachment?  Absolutely.  Alexander Hamilton, the author of Federalist 65, said we should expect this.  The people voted the Democrats into office in 2018. They control the House and they impeached the president. There is nothing unconstitutional about this.

(3) What about Trump’s association with convicted criminals?

Here’s Grudem:

Another reason to remove Trump from office, according to Galli, is that he hired and fired people who later became “convicted criminals.” This is a new argument. Previously, I was under the impression that our country holds a person responsible for his or her own wrongdoing, but not for the wrongdoing of others (unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it). However, now Galli is implying that Trump should be held accountable – and removed from office! – for the wrongdoing of people who worked for him. This is the unjust principle of “guilt by association.” I’m glad that God did not hold Jesus to that same standard (remember Judas, who served as treasurer for the 12 disciples and Jesus; see John 12:6; 13:29). In the Old Testament Scriptures, Ezekiel says this: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

Back to the Constitution: it says that a president shall be “removed from office” on the basis of impeachment for and conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (Art. II, Sec. 4). It does not say, “or the crimes of those who worked for him.” Galli is arguing that Trump should be “removed from office” on the basis of grounds that are not in the Constitution, and not even morally just. It seems ironic that, in an editorial urging Trump’s removal because of “ethical incompetence,” Galli condemns Trump on the basis of a standard (guilt by association) that is itself ethically unsound. 

The key phrase here is “unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it.” And what about Trump’s claim that he hires “all the best people?”  Granted, hiring bad people is not an impeachable offense, but it certainly says something about the moral decision-making of the president when such a large number of his associates end-up in jail or are under investigation.  The names Cohen, Manafort, Papadopoulus, Pinedo, Stone, Gates, and Flynn come to mind.

Grudem has his head in the sand.  He makes Trump sound like some kind of saint who just happens to be surrounded by corrupt people and its not his fault.

(4) Immoral actions before Trump became president

Grudem writes:

Galli also wants to remove Trump from office because he has admitted to “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women.” At this point Galli must be referring to actions done before Trump was elected president, because he has not admitted to any immoral actions while in office. In addition, I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business, so Galli’s accusations seem overly broad.

Let’s leave the Access Hollywood tape, the porn stars, the sexual harassment, and the mocking of women’s appearances to the side for the moment and stick with “immoral actions in business.”  Grudem says, “I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business.”  First, Grudem seems to think that Trump would actually admit that he has done something wrong. He assumes we are dealing with an upright and moral person here.  Second, did Grudem forget about Trump University or Trump’s fake charity, to name just a few of his immoral business practices?

(5) Do evangelical leaders brush off Trump’s immoral behavior?

Grudem again:

Galli claims that evangelicals “brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior.” But I know of no evangelical leader who “brushed off” Trump’s words and behavior, for they were roundly condemned. 

I myself wrote on Oct. 9, 2016, in Townhall.com, “I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election. His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) … His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.”

OK, fine.  But where was Grudem when Trump separated families from children at the border, said that there were “fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, lied or misrepresented the truth over 15,000 times, tried to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, prevented Muslims from entering the country, left Syrian Christians for dead, hired nativist and racist Stephen Miller, refused to release his tax returns, eliminated an ethics court for incoming White House staff, stood by as children bullied their classmates in his name, said Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” backed racist Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, defended Confederate monuments, and tried to end the DACA program?

More Grudem:

Galli does not claim that Trump has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women” during his three years in the White House. Shouldn’t we evaluate Trump primarily on the basis of his time as president? The Christian gospel includes the message that people can repent of past sins, ask God for forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and (often gradually) become better people (see Luke 24:47; Acts 20:21; 26:20).

With the exception of the Access Hollywood tape, Trump has not apologized or “asked for forgiveness” for any of these sins.  Compare Trump to Bill Clinton on this matter.

(6) Do Trump’s tweets show that he is immoral?

Grudem:

But what about Trump’s Twitter feed? Galli says it contains “a habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and is “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” But is this true?

Before people condemn Trump’s tweets by merely reading about them in a hostile press, they should read them for themselves. Anyone can do this at Twitter.com. I just read through every one of Trump’s tweets from the entire past week (December 19-25), to see if Galli is correct in his accusation. Here is a representative sample of those tweets, in Trump’s own words: 

December 25: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

2019 HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES WERE UP 3.4% FROM LAST YEAR, THE BIGGEST NUMBER IN U.S. HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA!

December 24: 187 new Federal Judges have been confirmed under the Trump Administration, including two great new United States Supreme Court Justices. We are shattering every record!

December 23: STOCK MARKET CLOSES AT ALL-TIME HIGH! What a great time for the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats to Impeach your favorite President, especially since he has not done anything wrong!

NASDAQ UP 72.2% SINCE OUR GREAT 2016 ELECTION VICTORY! DOW UP 55.8%. The best is yet to come!

Nancy Pelosi, who has already lost the House & Speakership once, & is about to lose it again, is doing everything she can to delay the zero Republican vote Articles of Impeachment. She is trying to take over the Senate, & Cryin’ Chuck is trying to take over the trial. No way!….

…What right does Crazy Nancy have to hold up this Senate trial. None! She has a bad case and would rather not have a negative decision. This Witch Hunt must end NOW with a trial in the Senate, or let her default & lose. No more time should be wasted on this Impeachment Scam!

December 22: Melania and I send our warmest wishes to Jewish people in the United States, Israel, and across the world as you commence the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.

December 21: Last night I was so proud to have signed the largest Defense Bill ever. The very vital Space Force was created. New planes, ships, missiles, rockets and equipment of every kind, and all made right here in the USA. Additionally, we got Border Wall (being built) funding. Nice!

December 20: Just had a great call with the President of Brazil, @JairBolsonaro . We discussed many subjects including Trade. The relationship between the United States and Brazil has never been Stronger!

December 19: The reason the Democrats don’t want to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate is that they don’t want corrupt politician Adam Shifty Schiff to testify under oath, nor do they want the Whistleblower, the missing second Whistleblower, the informer, the Bidens, to testify!

My question for Mr. Galli is this: how can you say that such tweets are “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused”? The expression “near-perfect example” suggests that something like 90% or 95% of his tweets reflect morally evil choices. But, after reading these tweets, it seems to me that Galli has made a false accusation. The most objectionable thing that I see in these tweets is that Trump labels his political opponents with derogatory nicknames (Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and Adam Shifty Schiff), but that impoliteness is a comparatively trivial matter that comes nowhere close to being a “near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” 

I see in these tweets a president who is rightfully proud of a healthy economy, a stronger military, and the appointment of 187 federal judges who are committed to judging according to what the law says and not according to their personal preferences. Such accomplishments are morally good benefits for the nation as a whole, and they have been accomplished by Trump in the face of relentless opposition from Democrats. Far from being “morally lost and confused,” Trump seems to me to have a strong sense of justice and fair play, and he is (I think rightfully) upset that the impeachment process in the House was anything but just and fair. 

Grudem is making an argument here based on one week (during the Christmas season) of Trump tweets.  I would encourage folks to read Trump’s Twitter feed.   The fact that Wayne Grudem, a Christian theologian and ethicist, would defend Donald Trump’s twitter feed is preposterous.

Are Trump’s tweets full of lies?

Grudem:

Galli also claims that Trump’s tweets contain a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders.” Do Trump’s tweets contain lies? Galli himself gives no examples, but the Washington Post on December 16 carried an article, “President Trump Has Made 15,413 False or Misleading Claims over 1,055 Days.”

What exactly are these alleged lies?

Grudem then goes on to suggest a few areas where he thinks The Washington Post is wrong.  He writes:

And so it goes with one supposed “lie” after another. Upon closer inspection, the accusations do not hold up.

Do I think that Trump has ever intentionally told a lie? I don’t know. Perhaps. I admit that he often exaggerates and boasts that something is the “biggest” or “best,” a habit that probably comes from his years in promoting his Manhattan real estate deals. In some cases, I think he has made incorrect claims not because he was intentionally lying but because he was given misleading information (as in his claim that the crowd at his inauguration was the biggest ever), and I think that the White House should correct any such inaccurate statements. But do I believe that he intentionally and habitually tells lies? Absolutely not.

Grudem suggests that Trump rarely lies intentionally. Grudem, a Calvinist who believes in human depravity, has the audacity to say that he does not believe Donald Trump “intentionally and habitually tells lies.” Has Grudem ever watched a Trump rally?  This is very disappointing from a guy who wrote a systematic theology textbook that a lot of evangelicals read.

(6) Does Trump have a “grossly immoral character”?

Grudem writes:

It is a deeply serious matter to accuse someone of having a “grossly immoral character,” for if the accusation is believed, it destroys a person’s reputation for lifetime, and a good reputation is more valuable than untold riches. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Therefore, before we make an accusation like this, it is important that we base it on an abundance of clear and compelling evidence, for false accusation inflicts substantial harm on another person. God commands, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16), and the Mosaic law code imposed strict penalties on anyone who made a false accusation (see Deuteronomy 19:18-19; compare Proverbs 6:19).

I think Galli is on pretty solid biblical evidence when he says that Trump has a “grossly immoral character.” Galli has no need to worry about bearing false witness or making false accusations.  Even some of the court evangelicals believe Donald Trump is immoral.  They just think that God uses immoral people to accomplish His will.

Grudem goes on:

“You are a bad person” strategy of the Left: Although I do not believe that Galli himself is part of the political Left, it is also important to realize the kind of political climate in which Galli’s claim occurs. One Fox News commentator rightly observed that the political Left has realized that it can’t beat conservatives by arguing, “You have bad policies,” so it has shifted to attacks that take the form, “You are a bad person.” And the result is that President Trump has been the target of incessant character assassination by the media for the past three years (as have many other conservatives).

But Jesus told us how to evaluate someone’s character: we should look at the fruit that comes from his life. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43-44).

We now have three years of results (or “fruit”) that have come from Donald Trump’s presidency, and, in my judgment, the fruit has been overwhelmingly good.

If we understand the idea of “fruit” in a larger New Testament context, we might turn to Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

For Grudem, Trump’s “fruits” are basically a long list of GOP talking points.  His op-ed assumes that there is a one-to-one correlation between these talking points and the teachings of the Bible.  There is not.

What about the negative results?

Here is Grudem:

At this point someone will ask, “But what about the negative fruit from Trump’s presidency? Isn’t he responsible for the toxic, highly polarized political atmosphere we now live in?”

Grudem blames most of our highly polarized political atmosphere on the “political Left.”  He then tries to quell Trump critics by quoting Romans 13:

Yet the New Testament tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1).

We have seen these appeals to Romans 13 before.

Harm to the Christian gospel?

Grudem:

Galli concludes by warning that evangelical Trump supporters will harm “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the world’s understanding of the gospel.” My response is that is not correct for Galli to say that character “doesn’t really matter” to evangelical Trump supporters, for we have roundly and universally condemned his past immoral behavior. Character matters. But the moral character that Trump has demonstrated while in the White House, his unswerving commitment to his campaign promises, his courage, and his sound judgment on one policy issue after another, are commendable.

I’m sorry, but I just have a very different understand of morality than my former professor.  To suggest that evangelical leaders have “roundly and universally condemned” Trump’s behavior–past or present–does not make sense to me.  Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.

A Southern Baptist Theologian Suggests that the CCCU-NAE “Fairness for All” Motion is the Work of Satan

Midwestern Sem

I am not sure which part of Wayne Grudem‘s theology Midwestern Baptist Seminary professor Owen Strachan admires more:  Grudem’s belief that women should serve as “compliments” to their husbands or his belief that the gift of prophecy is real.  (Side note:  I wrote about Grudem’s views of prophecy here).

In a recent post at Midwestern’s website, it seems like the later.  Strachan disagrees with a decision by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities and National Association of Evangelicals to propose an legislative initiative that would protect religious liberties alongside liberties for the LGBTQ community.  Read our post here.

Strachan writes with a sense of prophetic urgency.  “Are you paying attention?, he asks his fellow conservative evangelicals.  He adds: “The evangelical movement–and the religious community more generally–seems largely asleep in the face of its peril.”  But Strachan does not just have an honest disagreement with the CCCU and NAE.  He seems to be pretty certain that he is on God’s side and the dozens of Christian colleges in the CCCU and denominations in the NAE are on the side of Satan.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It is remarkable to observe the church’s silence or quiescence on these matters in our time. The evangelical movement seems not to know of the danger it faces in America. We do not wage war against flesh and blood, no, but we cannot miss that the LGBT lobby and its many willing partners seek to target and shut down Christians and Christian institutions who stand against the new sexual orthodoxy. If we are paying attention, we are seeing all sorts of quiet policing taking place on social-media platforms. Vimeo, Twitter, Patreon, Facebook: these and other organizations believe they are advancing justice by silencing those who dissent from mainstream orthodoxy. Free speech is challenged today, but not only at the more identifiable public level (the government). Free speech (and free thought) is increasingly imperiled at the private level, where it is especially difficult to spot and oppose. All this, by the way, is seen as righting the wrongs of the 2016 election, making America a more just society, and bringing gender equity to our body politic. This is, in other words, a system of righteousness, secular righteousness, and it comes by a new law that is ironically shorn of religion but championed with religious fervor.

Let us think for a moment of the broader conflict here. Part of Satan’s strategy is to use any means he can find to shut down the church. Satan’s major target is not the intellectual dark web. Satan’s major target is the body of believers who love and promote the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for depraved sinners like us (1 Peter 5:8). In every country on the earth, among every people group there is, Satan wants to do everything he can to destroy access to the gospel, belief in the gospel, and the very people who are claimed by the gospel. He is a waging a massive, multi-front war across every inch of the globe to deny God his rightful glory and to shred the blood-bought people of God. He does this not only by tempting Christians to sin, but by creating public and private structures that limit access to the truth. This world is not a neutral place. It is God’s world, but Satan wants it for his own. So, he works with great cleverness, great subtlety, and great daring to do everything he possibly can to oppose the work of God and the people of God.

We see an example of how to respond to Satan’s stratagems in the apostle Paul’s capture by the Romans (see Acts 22-26). I doubt your average evangelical has heard a solitary syllable about the significance of Paul’s self-defense for matters of conscience and public faith, but it matters greatly for our conversation. Satan will use any government, any body of leadership, he can to shut down the proclamation of the gospel. When he succeeds in his aims, and the state (or any group or leader) acts to quiet the church, what should Christians do? Paul shows us. When the Romans catch him in their net, Paul does not go quietly. He does not say, “Well, the life of the church matters, but the affairs of state don’t rate. I guess it’s prison for me, and then death.” No, Paul appeals to his Roman citizenship (beginning in Acts 22:25). He lives to fight another day. He refuses to accept his easy persecution and silencing. Even in prison, he continues the fight, as Acts shows, and he redeems the extra time his maneuvers buy by writing several epistles of the New Testament. Think about that: if Paul hadn’t made his citizenship appeal, and hadn’t fought his unjust persecution, we would not have the New Testament we have.

Christians in the twenty-first century should learn from Paul. We should not work with the Roman government to hammer out a way we can bow to Caesar, but also bow to Christ. We should follow Christ only. 

Read the entire post here.

I don’t have any other word but “fundamentalism” to describe Strachan’s post.  He is right.  Other Christians are deluded by Satan.  Everything is black and white.

What Happens When a Culture Warrior and a Confident Pluralist Exchange Tweets About Trump’s Border Wall?

Last week I did a post on evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s biblical defense of Donald Trump’s border wall.

Here is what a couple of smart people tweeted about Grudem’s defense of the wall:

As noted in my original post, Trump court evangelical and Christian radio host Eric Metaxas called Grudem’s view “A Sane View of the Border Wall Controversy.”

Washington University law professor John Inazu was not going to let Metaxas get away with this.  Here is his Twitter exchange with Metaxas:

Apparently, Metaxas did not realize that Inazu is the grandchild of Japanese immigrants.  His father was born in the Manzanar Japanese internment camp.

Here is Inazu again:

I can’t read Metaxas’s Twitter feed because I was blocked (and disparaged by Metaxas on more than one occasion) after I wrote a multi-post review exposing the serious historical errors in one of his recent books.  But it appears that he is now claiming that “thin-skinned Jacobins” are oppressing him for his remarks about Inazu.  Katelyn Beaty, a writer and former managing editor of Christianity Today, is having none of it:

There is something much deeper going on here than simply another twitter battle.  Metaxas believes in Donald Trump.  He is a cultural warrior.  He believes that America was founded as a Christian nation and should continue to be one.  He once called down the wrath of God on Christians who did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

Inazu, on the other hand, is a Christian law professor at a prestigious Midwestern university and a member of the Board of Trustees of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  His book Confident Pluralism is a call for Americans, including evangelical Christians, to learn to live together while respecting their deepest differences.  It is, in many ways, the antithesis of Metaxas’s culture-war approach.

The two approaches to culture are quite different and I think we see them playing out, to a degree, in this Twitter exchange.

Evangelical Theologian Wayne Grudem Supports Trump’s Wall

grudemI have written about evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem before.  During the 2016 election he was pro-Trump.  Then he had second thoughts.

Now he says that he supports the building of a wall on the US-Mexico border because biblical cities had walls.  Here is a taste of his article at the conservative website Townhall:

Is building a wall on our border a morally good action? As a professor who has taught biblical ethics for 41 years, I think it is – in fact, the Bible itself repeatedly views protective walls with favor.

Walls gave peace and security. In the world of the Old Testament, people built walls around cities to protect themselves from thieves, murderers, and other criminals, and from foreign invaders who would seek to destroy the city. People could still enter the city, but they had to do so by the gate, so that city officials would have some control over who was coming in and going out. Today’s debate is about a larger area – a national border, not a city – but the principles are the same.

A strong wall gave peace and security to the city, and one prayer of blessing for a city was, “Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” (Psalm 122:7). There was also a spiritual component, for the Lord himself strengthened the gates in the walls so they would protect the children and the peace and prosperity of a city:

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat (Psalm 147:12-14).

After King David established his capital in Jerusalem, he prayed, “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem” (Psalm 51:18) –  God’s blessing would include strong walls! After David came King Solomon, who finished and strengthened the wall around Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:1).

Read the entire piece here.

Here is a taste of The Christian Post‘s coverage of Grudem’s remarks:

Radio host and author Eric Metaxas praised the Grudem’s words on Twitter Monday calling his article “a sane view of the border wall controversy,” and approvingly shared it.

Yet others were not impressed with his application of Scripture on this issue, a topic presently roiling American politics.

“I admire much of Wayne Grudem’s work. But this is a crass politicization of biblical interpretation. It helps confirm secular critics’ worst caricatures of evangelicalism as politics masquerading as piety,” tweeted Thomas Kidd, a professor of history at Baylor University Monday.

The list of modern American political issues that the Bible speaks to directly is short, he said, adding that it reminded him of “the Moral-Majority era voting lists which touted tax cuts and such as the ‘biblical’ position.”

“There are lots of biblical principles that inform a Christian’s political views, of course. And I don’t question the idea that nations need secure borders and a sane immigration system,” Kidd continued.

“But caring for the sojourner is a much more applicable biblical principle in today’s immigration politics than ‘ancient cities in the Bible had walls, thus the Bible supports Trump’s border wall.'”

Brian Baise, a professor of philosophy and apologetics at Boyce College in Kentucky, was less charitable.

“There are genuinely good arguments that can be offered re: a wall, border security, and national sovereignty,” he tweeted.

“But hooooo boy this is a train-wreck,” he said of Grudem’s essay.

Read the rest of The Christian Post coverage here.

What is particularly troubling is that Grudem is revered in Reformed evangelical circles for his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology.

Evangelicals Have Suddenly Become More Forgiving of the Sins of Elected Officials

First_Baptist_Church_of_Dallas,_TX_IMG_3043

First Baptist Church–Dallas

Hmm….  I wonder what explains this?

Back in 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) asked voters if “an elected official who commits and immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”

In 2011, evangelical Christians were the least forgiving.

In October 2016, when PRRI asked the same question, evangelical Christians were the most forgiving.  In other words “white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.”

PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones calls this “a head-spinning reversal.”

I’m not sure how “head-spinning” this is.  Seems pretty par for the course.  Just ask Dr. James Dobson and Dr. Wayne Grudem.

Read all about it in this piece at The New York Times.

Wayne Grudem Has Second Thoughts About Trump

grudemIn light of the recently released tape of Donald Trump saying horrific things about women, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem has backed off his earlier view that Trump is a morally acceptable candidate for evangelicals.  (It is also interesting that the links to his original TownHall argument lead to a general page of Grudem’s writing for Town Hall that does not include the piece).  If I read today’s TownHall article correctly, Grudem has not ruled out voting for Trump, but he also sees serious moral problems with the GOP nominee.

Here is a taste:

There is no morally good presidential candidate in this election. I previously called Donald Trump a “good candidate with flaws” and a “flawed candidate” but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.

His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). I have now read transcripts of some of his obscene interviews with Howard Stern, and they turned my stomach. His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.

Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump. I am grateful that Townhall.com has agreed to remove my earlier statement.

But if Trump refuses to withdraw, where does that leave us? Hillary Clinton is no better. She vilified the victims of Bill Clinton’s sexual advances; she abandoned our diplomats to be killed by terrorists in Benghazi and then lied about it; she illegally handled classified emails on her private server and put national security at risk; she left much of the world in chaos after four years as Secretary of State; and she has a lifelong pattern of acting as if she is above the law, protected by the Obama administration’s Justice Department, the FBI, and the mainstream media.

Read the entire piece here.

Should “Trump-Loving” Evangelicals Apologize to Bill Clinton?

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James Dobson made a strong case for the moral character of the President of the United States during the Clinton impeachment crisis in 1998.  You can read about it here.

So did Wayne Grudem.  You can read about it here.

It has now been well-chronicled that Dobson and Grudem have come out in support of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

So does moral character still matter?

Writing at The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt calls attention to what seems to be the hypocrisy of these “Trump-Loving evangelicals.” He demands that “Trump-loving evangelicals should either apologize to Bill Clinton or admit, after all these years, that they too, have a character issue.”

He adds:

“Character counts.” That was evangelicals’ rallying cry in their all-out assault against Bill Clinton beginning in 1993. In response to what they perceived as widespread moral decline, some religious groups had become aligned with the Republican Party during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. To them, the allegedly draft-dodging, pot-smoking, honesty-challenged womanizer symbolized everything that was wrong with America.

More than two decades after Clinton’s first inauguration, many evangelical leaders of that era have endorsed the draft-dodging, foul-mouthed, honesty-challenged womanizer named Donald Trump for president. Only a handful refuse to follow suit, including Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the Clinton years, he regularly argued in mainstream media outlets that the Arkansan was morally unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president,” Mohler says, “I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”

At least Mohler is consistent, which is more than can be said for some of his peers in leadership. While prominent evangelicals tied Bill Clinton to the public whipping post for nearly a decade to make him pay penance for his character defects, they now celebrate a reality-television star who is at least as flawed. As Mohler said, if these Christian leaders want to endorse Trump, they should apologize to Bill Clinton…

…Evangelicals during the ’90s were not merely concerned with Clinton’s private behavior; they were worried about its effect on a society they felt had already abandoned traditional values. In September 1998, James Dobson of Focus on the Family sent a letter to 2.4 million conservative Christians claiming Clinton should be impeached because his behavior was setting a bad example for our children about “respecting women.” Dobson’s apparent concern for women back then feels like a partisan political move now that he’s given Trump an enthusiastic endorsement.

While Clinton, at least, hid his indiscretions, Trump has paraded his affairs down Broadway for decades. In The Art of the Deal, Trump actually bragged about bedding multiple married women. He’s slept with so many women that he called his ability to avoid STDs “my personal Vietnam.” He’s objectified or insulted the women he hasn’t married, divorced, or slept with, labeling those he finds unattractive with terms like “fat pig,” “dog” or “slob.” In numerous interviews with Howard Stern, he talked in graphic detail about his sexual exploits and discussed which female celebrities are worth a “bang.” How exactly do evangelicals reconcile this behavior with claims that they value respect for women?

Read the entire piece here.

OK, now some thoughts for my evangelical and Christian readers:

There have been a lot of arguments in the evangelical community about whether one should or should not support Trump.  As I argued yesterday, the pro-Trump argument centers on his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. But I hear very little conversation within evangelical circles about how support for Donald Trump impacts Christian witness in the United States and beyond.  No one is talking about how a Trump-loving evangelical bears testimony to his or her faith with unbelievers.  (Last time I checked evangelism was a fundamental tenet of evangelical belief).

Whether we like it or not, or whether it is fair or not, we live in an age when religious conviction and politics are closely linked in the minds of many Americans. If you are an evangelical who supports Trump you are going to have a lot of explaining to do when unbelieving friends and acquaintances ask you how you claim the name of Jesus Christ and still affiliate with the immoral candidate that Merritt describes above.  Somehow I don’t think “well, Hillary is a lot worse” or “we need to win the Supreme Court” is going to be an adequate answer.

Evangelical Hopes for a Conservative Supreme Court Rest in the Hands Someone Nearly Incapable of Telling the Truth

Dobson and Trump

By now we know that many evangelicals who have serious character issues about Donald Trump are still voting for him because he will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices who will try to overturn Roe v. Wade and  Obergell v. Hodges and respect religious freedom. This is an argument made by prominent evangelicals such as Wayne Grudem, Eric Metaxas, James Dobson, and others.  Today I was talking to an evangelical who during the course of our conversation spent ten minutes attacking Trump only to tell me at the end of his tirade that he will be voting for him.

As I wrote last month, Trump’s decision to announce the names of his possible Supreme Court appointees is what is still keeping him in this race. It has proven to be his best move in this campaign.

But what about the fact that Trump is a serial liar?  According to the bipartisan PolitiFact, 85% of the claims Trump has made on the campaign trail (or at least the statements PolitiFact checked) are either half true or false. (Compare to Hillary Clinton at 48%). Yesterday he told the crowds at one of his rallies about a video that did not exist and built and entire case against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton based on the video.  Today Trump admitted that he did not see the phantom video, but he did not say anything about the argument he made to his supporters stemming from his apparent viewing of it.

There is now a small cottage industry of websites and bloggers who list all of Trump’s lies.  Just Google “list of Trump’s lies.”

I find it fascinating that evangelicals are willing to believe Trump will appoint conservative justices when, in fact, more than eight out of ten things he says are either half true or untrue.  This is yet another sign of how evangelicals have placed their hopes in government as a means of accomplishing their ends, even to the point of hoping that a political candidate who rarely tells the truth will follow-through on his promise.. Are evangelicals so desperate that they will cling to the words of someone who Ted Cruz called a “pathological liar” and David Brooks says “lacks the inner equipment that makes decent behavior possible?”

What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998

grudemI 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 Merritt, Thomas KiddWarren Throckmorton, David French, Beth Allison Barr, Scot McKnight, Randal Rauser, David 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.”

Marco Rubio’s Appeal to the Evangelical Mainstream

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GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently announced the creation of a campaign advisory board that will focus on religious liberty issues.  It is an impressive group of scholars, activists, theologians, and legal experts.  Though it is doubtful that the members of this committee will play a major role in the Florida Senator’s day-to-day quest for the White House, its makeup tells us a lot about the religious sensibilities of the Rubio campaign.

The advisory board was the brainchild of Eric Teetsel, the Rubio campaign’s director for faith outreach.  Teetsel is a 2006 graduate of evangelical Wheaton College, an architect of the Values & Capitalism project at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, which he describes on his website as a “ ‘call of Christian conscience’ on life, marriage, and religious liberty.”

Teetsel has assembled nothing short of an all-star team of conservative evangelical leaders—men and women who have been outspoken defenders of religious liberty as the GOP understands it.  The roster includes Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and Barack Obama’s choice to pray at his inauguration in 2008; Samuel Rodriguez, the most prominent Hispanic evangelical in the country and the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Michael McConnell, the Stanford University Law School professor who was considered by George W. Bush as serious Supreme Court nominee in 2005.

Rubio’s board is also religiously diverse, at least as far as the Judeo-Christian tradition goes.  It includes a Jewish Rabbi, several Roman Catholics, and, of course, a large number of Protestant evangelicals.

But it is Teetsel’s choice of evangelicals that speaks volumes.  In addition to Warren and Rodriguez, the board includes Wheaton College theologian Vincent Bacote, the author of a recent book on evangelical political engagement and a strong advocate for the role of Christianity in cultural renewal; Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd, a prolific writer on matters related to religious freedom and the American founding whose work is respected by liberals and conservatives alike; and Wayne Grudem, a theologian known best for his popularity among young Calvinist evangelicals and his defense of a “complementarian” view of marriage.

These evangelicals not only have respected academic credentials, or have proven to be thoughtful defenders of religious liberty, but they reveal Rubio’s appeal to a rational, sane, and more informed evangelical constituency than the kind of evangelicals that his GOP opponents have chosen to work with in recent months.

For example, Ted Cruz has sought to make inroads among evangelicals through his relationship with Texas Republican activist David Barton, the country’s foremost defender of the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.  Barton’s use of the past to promote his political agenda has been almost universally discredited by historians, including nearly all evangelical historians.  But he has a large following and currently heads a Cruz super-Pac.  He still appears to have the ear of the Princeton and Harvard-educated Senator.

Donald Trump has found his own niche among the evangelical community.  In September 2015 the New York businessman and GOP presidential candidate met and prayed with a group of religious leaders dominated by Pentecostal Christians, many of whom adhere to the prosperity gospel, a brand of evangelicalism that teaches financial blessing will come to all true followers of Jesus Christ.

Granted, few American evangelicals will vote for Marco Rubio because of the make-up of his religious liberty advisory committee, but in assembling this group he has carved out a niche for himself as the candidate of the thoughtful evangelical mainstream.