Thinking Out Loud

March 12, 2022

Some Evangelicals Never Thought They’d Be Under the Mircoscope

In May of 2011, I posted the following picture in an article titled, “Christians Everywhere, Meet Your Spokesmen.”

For the record, that’s Harold Camping, Terry Jones and Fred Phelps

The point that day had more to do with men in gray suits. Others would quickly want to add Pat Robertson or Jack Van Impe. Non-Reformers aren’t too impressed with John Piper, either.

In 2018, I wrote that “as each of these exits the world stage, as we all will do, it seems disappointing when new ones step up to replace them. Some don’t really fit the suit — and these are invariably males — but the effect is the same. Others are so young, but are already on a clear trajectory for crazy uncle status… Others are so called “watchdogs” like the self-righteous, Pharisaical Chris Rosbrough. Others, like Ed Stetzer enjoy a measure of acceptability within a large denomination such that people miss how totally obnoxious and self-absorbed they truly are.

I went on to mention John MacArthur sidekick Phil Johnson, and “the snarky, sarcastic, caustic, infantile attitudes of the guys on the Happy Rant Podcast.” And I didn’t forget J.D. Hall.

Fast forward to 2022, and Robertson is in semi-retirement, and many wish MacArthur would follow suit. But Piper still pops in and out of our Twitter feed, directly or indirectly.

Alongside this we have this interesting phenomenon where books like Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes DuMez, and The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr are part of everyday conversations by rank and file church parishioners, at the same time as church abuse survivor stories find a greater audience and are received as having greater credibility.

It was in reference to the two above-mentioned books that I read something online that I wish I could provide the reference for; but I need to forge ahead and repeat it here as best I can. The gist of was that many Evangelical church leaders never dreamed that their actions would be the object of academic and scholarly study. To say it differently, they never considered that things they did one or more decades ago would be placed under the microscope and closely examined by so many for so long.

Regardless of how they viewed their actions, church historians and sociologists and journalists are now casting their gaze back over years and years of trends in Evangelical thought and saying, ‘Here is what was actually happening.’ Yes, they have the benefit of hindsight, but that is exactly a key aspect to the historical method.

There’s a news radio station in a nearby city that had a tag line, “Read it tomorrow, see it tonight, hear about it now.” The reference was to sourcing our news through newspapers, television news, and radio. Going the other direction on the spectrum, we find the weekly news magazines like Time, the year-in-review publications, and finally, at the farthest end, the history books.

Many of the things that Evangelical leaders have said and done were probably, in their own minds, things which would be on the minds of people today, tonight and tomorrow. And no longer. Politicians have known for years how people tend to forget. But the radio station tag line might reached back to “Consider it next week,” and ultimately, “Analyze it in ten to twenty years.”

Which is where we find ourselves. The men in suits — maybe not just the ones in the picture above, but the ones in the books I mentioned (and many other books) — did not realize they were shaping a greater movement (or sub-movement) within the Church and the true nature of the legacy they were leaving.

To some extent, many of us went along with it. We bought the Focus on the Family resources and found them helpful in raising our children, never considering the possibility that the jury, which seemed to be out for a long time, might return a different verdict on the impacts of purity balls and homeschooling in general. We adored the charismatic nature and speaking ability of pastors like James MacDonald and bought our tickets never realizing where the ride was taking us, and him. We bought the Left Behind books and watched the movies without a thought that the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is absolutely nowhere to be found in Christian writing prior to 1870, because we found great comfort in an eschatology that gets us the heck out of here.

But the time for reflection and analysis is here.

…Don’t beat yourself up over any peripheral involvement you may have had with days of Evangelical zeal. Don’t imagine yourself going back to tell your 30-years-younger self something, because that version of you would not have understood what you were saying. Or recognized you as you.

At the same time though, realize that one thing did, as the proverb says, lead to another, and if you can still reflect on those ‘glory days’ fondly, without any regrets, then you have missed out on the blessing of being a thinking Christian, of being self-aware of where you stand (as we all do) at the intersection of faith and culture.

 

February 16, 2022

America: Christianity’s Wild, Wild West

Review of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes DuMez (Liveright Publishing, 2020)

This is a very American story. As I type this, I’m reminded that over three-quarters of my Thinking Out Loud readers are in the U.S., and almost from the beginning, I’ve written to an American audience using American spellings and vocabulary. But I also write this sitting one country removed, north of the 49th, where Evangelicalism wears a different face.

Nonetheless, to say “Evangelical” is similar to saying “Hollywood.” Both are two significant U.S. exports.  While Americans didn’t invent The Great Commission, they certainly defined it in unique terms.

While visiting Nuremberg in Germany a few years back, my wife and I had an impromptu meeting with some Evangelical leaders there who, while they used the adjective themselves, mostly rolled their eyes as U.S.-style evangelists and ministries were rolling over Europe staking their identity on social issues, rather than theological constructs.

I would argue that after reading Jesus and John Wayne, it’s necessary to pick up a copy of something like Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century by Brian Stiller, Todd M. Johnson, et al to remember that the shape and form of those who take the name Evangelical in other parts of the world is quite different, and far less politically-affiliated than what the term has come to mean in the 50 states.

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation is the work of a historian. Kristin Kobes DuMez teaches History and Gender Studies at Calvin University and since the book’s release both it and she have gained significant attention. If you wanted to catch up on the last 20 years of American Christian blogs, tweets, podcasts and magazine articles, this is the place to do so, with some previous decades thrown in for good measure. It’s a “who’s who” and “what’s what” of the major writers, influential pastors, and high profile organizations, and high profile politicians who have shaped U.S. Christianity or been shaped by it.

This is not a theological book.

While DeMez knows the value of a well-placed adjective, time and space do not allow for much beyond the rapid unraveling of the basic timeline, and while I haven’t counted, the stage version would involve a cast of hundreds and hundreds, often with a great many occupying the stage at the same time. So it is also that time and space do not allow for her to inject commentary or opinion or theological reflection on the events in Christian America. This treatment might be seen by some as rather sterile, but a glimmer of the writer’s personal perspective does get through in the way the material, much of which is direct quotations, is arranged and presented.

Christianity in America, so it seems, is unable to operate without either intentional or unintentional political ramifications. Yes, the body of frequently-attending Evangelical churchgoers influences the course of elections, but it would appear that just as often, the U.S. church is influenced by the political process itself which hangs over the U.S. church like a low-hanging thundercloud touching the church steeple. American Christians — Evangelical ones at least — have lost the plot on having an apolitical Christianity. (It might have been worth mentioning that Jesus never once directly addressed the Roman occupation, though ‘if someone asks you to go one mile…’ and the coin illustration certainly hinted at it.)

I am often reminded of 2 Timothy 2:4 “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” If Christ is our commander, our desire ought to be to build his Kingdom, right? But I’m also aware of vivid personal memories of Pat Robertson encouraging television viewers on the importance of having Christians “in the public square” and being willing to engage in that context. For Americans, a House of Representatives or Senate Chambers (or Supreme Court or even White House) devoid of a Christian presence is seemingly unimaginable, but if the expression of Christianity is light years removed from the everyday application of the teachings of Jesus, is it worth calling it a Christian presence at all?

So where does John Wayne fit in to all this? Surprisingly, he’s more than just a motif, but turns up all through the book as an example of the rugged masculinity of the wild, wild west, from California actor-turned-President Ronald Regan, even to the point of President Trump standing next to a wax figure of the celebrated actor. (The book is peppered with relevant news file photos.) Given the choice between someone who shares Evangelicalism’s values and someone who is simply a strong leader, American churchgoers seem to prefer leadership qualities over faith pedigree. If anything, that was my top takeaway from reading the book in full.

Those things, in a nutshell, are my two primary takeaways from reading Jesus and John Wayne. American Evangelicals have conflated Christianity with various types of hyper-masculine imagery and role models; and that sadly, given the choice, American Evangelicals have often chosen power over principles.

Professor DuMez, much like the anchors on the network newscasts, does not inject much in the way of commentary or personal opinion. Toward the end, she does allow one bias to emerge, a longing for a significant course correction. It seems overly idealistic however, and perhaps she and the rest of us may have to wait for a day when churches in other parts of the world take the lead roles in Evangelicalism.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution in Canada for an opportunity to finally get my hands on a copy of J&JW. Much appreciated.

 

 

 

December 29, 2021

The Philip Yancey I Never Knew

This was not the book I was expecting. It was also the book I almost set aside without finishing. Where the Light Fell: A Memoir (Convergent Books, 2021) is the sometimes gut-wrenching story of the early life of one of today’s most popular Christian authors. It is not a pretty story.

Raised in an ultra-conservative Bible Belt family by a single mother, it’s a story of hardship on every level. Having read nearly half of Yancey’s two dozen books, I thought I knew some of the backstory, but nothing prepared for me for these revelations.

After reading the first forty pages just before turning out the lights for the evening, I set the book down and that night, sleep just didn’t come. It would be a week before I would pick up my copy and continue, and with some of the worst of the timeline behind me, I more eagerly continued to the end.

But the end was not what I expected. I knew of Yancey’s work with Campus Life magazine and co-editing The Student Bible, and co-authoring three books with leprosy doctor Paul Brand. But only two of those three surface for a fleeting mention toward the end. The focus here is on earlier times; younger days.

I’m sure he would agree with me that the memoir is a story of family dynamics, and from the outset it appears that the mother-son relationship will dominate. However, in later chapters — and this isn’t really a spoiler — it becomes more about the relationship with his brother Marshall Yancey, and the contrast between two boys who share so many things in common at the beginning, and then arriving at entirely opposite places. In a different world, it might be Marshall’s autobiography people were reading.

Over the years I’ve introduced dozens of people to the writing of Philip Yancey. If pressed, I often say that the draw for me is that as journalist and not a pastor, I am struck by the way he wrestles with scripture and theology.

Now I understand why. I understand why it’s necessary, why it’s imperative for him to fully work out anything he’s going espouse in print. He places a high value on raw honesty and transparency. He’s not always interested in providing the right answers as he is in the process it takes to arrive there. Only then will the answers suffice.

Living one country removed from the U.S., there’s so much of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s America that never touched my own experience. Still, our family’s yearly car trips to Florida meant driving through the southern states, and particularly in the years before the interstate highway system was completed, there were snapshots in the book — especially those portraying extreme poverty — that brought flashbacks to things I’d seen from the backseat of my parents’ car.

The guest speakers at Yancey’s summer camp were not entirely unfamiliar names, and the names of the Christian magazines his mother subscribed to also resonated. But my contact was fleeting whereas he was immersed in that milieu, and it had repercussions on every choice with which he was confronted and how he and his brother saw the world.

For those for whom this is a foreign experience, the book is a necessary tool for processing Evangelical history in the post-war, mid-20th century. No wonder that on book tours, he had said, “I truly believe this is the one book I was put on earth to write.”

It was on such a book tour years ago that I got to meet my favorite writer. I shook his hand and thanked him for all that his books have meant. He had just released What Good Is God? and the publicist had handed me a complimentary copy and I waited until all the purchasers of the book had left and then asked him if he would autograph mine. Being last in line, if I had known things about him that I now know, I might have extended our conversation by a few extra minutes discussing the Christian world which I got to see from a bit of a distance, and that he lived in every waking moment.

I also find now, I’m longing for a part two. How that upbringing shaped those experiences working for a mainstream Evangelical magazine like Campus Life or a publisher like Zondervan, with whom his books were released. Perhaps part two consists of re-reading some of those classics — What’s So Amazing About Grace, or The Jesus I Never Knew or even Soul Survivor — through the lens of what’s been revealed here in Where the Light Fell.

For those familiar with Philip Yancey’s previous works, this is a must-read. For those who have completed other recent books which deal with the history of Evangelical Protestantism in the United States in the past century, again a must-read.

Just be prepared to recognize this as the story not just of one person, but of a mother and two sons, because that’s the essence of what you’ll find.


Thanks to Martin Smith of Parasource, Canadian distributor for Convergent for providing a chance to read this when I’d given up hope of getting a review copy!

March 1, 2019

“It’s the Rapture!” “No, It’s Not!”

Two forthcoming titles take two different paths to explore a similar theme. I thought it was interesting that both of these have a scheduled release date of March 19th. For the record, I did not receive review copies from either publisher.

First, Herald Press offers Unraptured: How End Times Theology Gets it Wrong by Zach Hunt, available in both hardcover and paperback.

Are you rapture ready? As a teenager in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Zack Hunt was convinced the rapture would happen at any moment. Being ready meant never missing church, never sinning, and always listening to Christian radio.

But when the rapture didn’t happen, Hunt’s tightly wound faith began to fray. If he had been wrong about the rapture, what else about his faith might not hold water?

Part memoir, part tour of the apocalypse, and part call to action, Unraptured traces how the church’s focus on escaping to heaven has it mired in decay. Teetering on the brink of irrelevancy in a world rocked by refugee crises, climate change, war and rumors of war, the church cannot afford to focus on the end times instead of following Jesus in the here and now. Unraptured uses these signs of the times to help readers reorient their understanding of the gospel around loving and caring for the least of these.

Then, releasing on the exact same day, Chosen Books releases Not Afraid of the Anti-Christ: Why We Don’t Believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture by Michael Brown and Craig Keener in paperback.

Despite the popular belief that Christians will be raptured before the start of the Tribulation, Scripture paints a very different picture. Nowhere does the Bible promise that believers will escape the revelation of the Antichrist and his war on the saints. In fact, God tells His people to expect tribulation–and to persevere through it.

In this eye-opening text, acclaimed scholars and authors Michael Brown and Craig Keener offer encouragement and hope for the approaching dark times. Together they walk you through an intensive study of Bible passages, helping you gain a better understanding of what the future holds. Through it all, there is no need to fear; God has a plan. He will not abandon His people in the terrible days ahead.

Take comfort in the words of Jesus: He has overcome the world. Even in the midst of great sorrows on the earth, we live in Jesus’ victory until He returns at the end of the age.

People who are strong adherents of traditional Evangelical eschatology may be offended by both books (!) but there are those who have misgivings about that end times model which may welcome these two books.

December 15, 2018

Denominational Hierarchies: Some Warning Signs

In the Catholic Church, the buck stops at The Vatican. In Evangelical churches, the buck stops with what the Bible says. But many find themselves in a middle ground where great authority is given to the head of the denominational body.

With most Evangelicals, current discussions prompted by Andy Stanley notwithstanding, the final authority for all things doctrinal is what “the Bible says.” The matter of where “the buck stops” is one of two things which separate us from our Roman Catholic friends, the other being the veneration of Mary.

In the Catholic Church, authority rests with the magisterium, ie. The Vatican or The Pope. But Evangelicals can easily fall into a similar mindset by vesting too much authority in what goes on at the denominational head office.

Consider these as warning signs:

  • A photograph of the head of the denomination appears in the church lobby, or perhaps even past heads.
  • Ecclesiastic terms for the denominational leader are used, such as ‘Bishop.’
  • You find the pastor frequently quoting the denominational head in sermons, or re-blogging their material on their own blog.
  • The denomination’s leader has written a book, and that book is available for purchase at all local churches. 
  • The denomination will on occasion produce a short video address by the head of the church, which must be shown in all churches.
  • The national head of your denomination is inaccessible to the common parishioner; unavailable for discussion or forums.
  • Frequently you hear terms like, “We received word from head office;” or “We’ve put in a request to head office;” or “We’re awaiting a decision by our President/Moderator/Bishop.”
  • The church is frequently visited by national and regional leaders who ‘bring greetings’ on behalf of the denomination.
  • There are frequent shifts in denominational policy, organizational structure, or even doctrinal interpretation on secondary beliefs and tenets.
  • Access to information about head office programs, initiatives and decisions is difficult to obtain.
  • You just ‘sense’ things aren’t right, but when you try to speak to your local church pastor or staff, your questions are dismissed.
  • The perceived attitude of invincibility at the national level is reflected at the local church level. Your pastor is never questioned or cannot be challenged.

Those are a few. If these are foreign to your experience, then you’ve been blessed. But if you’ve experienced this, perhaps you can comment, without being too specific, if I’ve omitted anything.

September 23, 2018

Christianity on the Move: When He Said Timbuktu, He Really Meant Timbuktu

Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance on the expansion of the Christian church worldwide.

Part One: 4 Minutes

Part Two: 5½ Minutes


Link to the World Evangelical Alliance

Brian is also the author of An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker) which we reviewed here recently.

My review of Brian’s Evangelicals Around the World (Thomas Nelson) (an encyclopedia of all things Evangelical).

My review of From Jerusalem to Timbuktu (InterVarsity).

September 1, 2018

Throwback: Teaching Tapes

The plastic binders were a classier way to store them, but some of us simply threw our teaching tapes in boxes.

I had boxes of them. Perhaps you did as well.

We would go to those huge Christian music festivals on Pennsylvania dairy farms — back when the headlining speakers had equal billing with headlining musicians — and come back with bags and bags of the things. Heck, people would set up booths vending tapes for speakers who weren’t even appearing at the event; such was the hunger to collect and listen.

In the land before live streaming of church services, sermons on demand, and podcasts, this was how you immersed yourselves in the tapes of your favorite Bible teacher and introduced his (or her) core message to your friends.

I got to thinking of this today because the Saturday Brunch column at Internet Monk mentioned a series that Michael Newnham is running on the history of Calvary Chapel. (I’ve stolen that and reproduced it at the end of this article.) I had a friend who owned the complete — don’t know how many hundred — set of Chuck Smith preaching his way through the entire Bible. The things came in large wooden cases and covered an area larger than a pool table.

He was moving and I had hoped that I would be the beneficiary of that move, but instead another mutual acquaintance was gifted them.

For years, that really bothered me.

Today, I would have nothing to play them on. There’s one cassette player left in the house and it’s not going to last much longer. Besides, I have moved on to other teachers and doctrinal perspectives.

However, it makes me wish that Chuck Smith had committed himself to books, instead of to the fad of the day, audio cassettes. While I’m sure that these messages have been transferred to mp3 files, there’s something permanent about a book. (In the same way I wish my dad had developed his film into prints, instead of slides; just like you’ll wish something similar when all your children’s pictures are only fit for devices which disappear off the consumer electronics shelves.)

It’s hard to believe right now, but it’s possible that before long the term “internet” will come to mean something quaint or ancient. A lot of teaching content has been uploaded in forms that the future may render obsolete.

Sometimes people would trade teaching tapes the way one might trade expensive, collector’s baseball cards. I like that because it placed a value on the teaching. Or we would simply share them with friends back home unable to make it to the event.

And don’t miss the aside comment in the second paragraph, above. The teachers really did receive equal billing to the musicians. We drove those miles in the camper or station wagon because we were looking forward to the sermons we would hear along with the concerts we would here. Equally.

I can honestly say I was truly changed by some of those teachings.


Calvary Chapel story referenced above, as listed at today’s Internet Monk:

April 30, 2018

Evangelical Assimilation: A Review of the Babylon Bee Book

The year was 2010, and a popular Christian humor and satire blog, Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff was a must read on a daily basis when a book of the same name released, Stuff Christians Like. Today the satire site of choice is The Babylon Bee, and it was only a few weeks in that we finally learned that the creator of the site was Adam Ford, known to that point as the artist behind the Adam4D comic.

Cracking the pages open of How to be The Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living, it was hard not to make comparisons to Stuff Christians Like, although about halfway through I had bought in to the premise of How to be… enough to enjoy it on its own merit.

For the record however, Stuff… took material from the daily blog and incorporated it into a collection of columns, whereas How to be… offers all-original material which has not appeared on the blog, in this form, to this point. So to get the comparison out of the way, I think the Babylon Bee material, like Jon Acuff’s blog before it, has more bite to it in the short-form rather than long-form format, and I also think the How to be…’s long-form moved it away from some of the references de jour, which make it so amusing. Ford, and (we’re told) a team of writers scour the Christian headlines, all too familiar to Wednesday readers here, and extrapolate fictional (i.e. fake) news stories taking those headlines to extremes.

The book instead tries to be more timeless though names are named. For the first few chapters, I pictured this book falling into the wrong hands, such as some neophyte convert in a Third World country where satire doesn’t exist. I longed for a page at the front, blank except for the words, ‘Warning: This book is satirical and should not be taken seriously.’ Now we might have to wait a year or two for some missionary to return with stories of a tribe where the book is being followed to the letter.

The book is published in hardcover in North America; 193 pages, of which 19 are blank, 12 are simply chapter titles and 12 are half-blank by virtue of the page formatting. So more like 156 digest-sized pages for $20 US or $26 Canadian. Forgive me for saying the book would be funnier in paperback.

What I did especially like is that Ford and co-author Kyle Mann offer some solid Biblical quotations to offset the farce, including an entire page (8 verses) from The Sermon on The Mount. This, plus allusions to other scriptures stand in contrast to the way they can be misused by churches (and satire writers) to produce unintended interpretations.

This is a book about learning how to assimilate into Evangelical culture. Like the Acuff book, it also reminded me of Games Christians Play which was published in the 1940s by Harper & Row, which we mentioned a few months ago in a general article on the Christian use of humor.

The Babylon Bee has an enormous online following. This book will resonate well with people who are informed as to the people, places and things which make up Evangelicalism. (Though one review suggests some names in the advance copy were excised from the final printing.) There were a few laugh-out-loud moments for this reader, but often what comes across isn’t satire, but rather sarcasm, and there is a difference.

On the other hand, if you decide to fully buy-in — if you live in the aforementioned Third World country, for example — there is a Holiness Tracker at the end of each chapter by which you can gauge your spiritual progress. Reading those brief sections, I do get the feeling that some will try to take the book literally, or, that many are already following the same steps to Evangelical conformity.

April 24, 2018

Evangelicals: A Guided World Tour

As Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Brian Stiller has a big-picture perspective unlike anyone else on the planet. His two most recent books have confirmed this: Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Zondervan, 2015) and An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker, 2016). Simply put, Brian Stiller is a walking encyclopedia on all things Evangelical and he gains his information not from typical research but through firsthand, on-the-ground observation and involvement. We’re talking both frequent flyer miles, and the recognition of Christian leaders on every continent.

This time around he’s with InterVarsity Press (IVP) for From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity (248 pages, paperback).

So…about that title. Brian Stiller argues that if we see Jerusalem as the birthplace, and thereby global center of Christianity, that center point moved up into Europe and then back down and then, around 1970 that center started shifting to the global south. The impact of this is huge; it means that North American and Western Europe are no longer setting the agenda for Christianity. It also means that one particular nation, rocked by the link between Evangelicalism and the election of a particular leader and now trying to consider if it’s time to rename the group entirely, simply cannot be allowed to dictate that change when one considers all that Evangelicals, quite happy with the term, are doing in the rest of the world.

Disclaimer: I am blessed to know Brian personally. His wealth of knowledge impacted me when I sat in the offices of Faith Today magazine, and Brian rhymed off the names of organizations founded in the years immediately following World War II, and then how, as these maverick, dynamic leaders passed the baton to the next generation, these organizations entered a type of maintenance mode, with lessened radical initiative. As Director of Youth for Christ Canada, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (this country’s counterpart to the NAE), President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global World Ambassador for the WEA, he has truly lived four distinct lifetimes.

But that’s not the topic for this book. Rather he looks at five drivers which have characterized the growth of Evangelicalism globally. These are:

  1. An undeniable increase in emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The fruit of years of work by Bible translators.
  3. A shift towards using national (indigenous) workers to lead.
  4. A greater engagement with legislators and governments.
  5. A return to the teachings of Jesus regarding compassion and justice.

Beginning with the first of these, Brian doesn’t hide his own Pentecostal/Charismatic roots, something I haven’t seen as much in his earlier books. A final chapter looks at the influence of prayer movements, the role of women in ministry, the trend in praise and worship music, the challenge of welcoming refugees, and the constant spectre of persecution.

The book compresses decades of modern church history into a concise collection of data and analysis.  It is an answer to the question, “What in the world is God doing?”

I know of no better title on the subject simply because I know of no one more qualified to write it. This is an excellent overview for the person wanting to see the arc of Evangelicalism since its inception or the person who is new to this aspect of faith and wants to catch up on what they’ve missed.

For both types of people, this is a great book to own.

► See the book’s page at the IVP website.

January 29, 2018

What Does American Evangelicals Electing Trump Say About the Movement?

In Canada we have no fixed Evangelical voting block. Consensus from my church peers on any candidate — municipal, provincial or federal — might be hard to come by.

But if Evangelicals in the U.S. could elect one such as Donald Trump, what does that say about the movement as a whole? Could it happen with Canadian Evangelicals, or Australian Evangelicals?

Skye Jethani probes the fallout from the November, 2017 election in an article too long to print in full here. But I want to share some highlights while strongly encouraging you to click the title below.

Who’s Really Leading Evangelicalism, the Shepherds or the Sheep? (Hint: it’s not the shepherds)

by Skye Jethani

Twenty years ago, when I was engaged to my future wife, a counselor told me, “The key to a successful marriage is not who you are on your wedding day, but who you are becoming. Healthy couples grow together over time, not apart.”

Based on that wisdom, the marriage between American evangelicals and their leaders is heading for divorce. What began following World War II as a marriage between evangelical leaders like Graham, Ockenga, and Henry seeking a biblical form of culturally-engaged Christianity and ordinary Christians tired of fundamentalism’s strident separatism, has now splintered into a house divided.

Since 81 percent of white evangelical voters lifted Donald Trump to the presidency, many of evangelicalism’s leaders are wondering what’s happened to the movement they are supposed to be guiding but hardly recognize anymore. For the last year they’ve been asking tough questions: Can evangelicals support immoral candidates and not lose their moral authority? How did “evangelical” go from a theological label to a political one? And, Who’s a real evangelical anyway? 

These questions have flooded blogs, editorials, and even the mainstream media via articles by luminaries like Tim KellerMark Galli, and Russell Moore

All of this soul searching and hand wringing, however, is unlikely to have much impact because, as Michael Lindsay has observed, “There is a growing divide between ordinary evangelicals and evangelical leaders.”…Those evangelicals who lead denominations, para-church organizations, relief and mission agencies, who write well researched books, and publish editorials in The New Yorker may walk the halls of power but they are not the voices actually shaping popular evangelicalism. In fact, there’s growing evidence that even local pastors are having less influence on the evangelicals filling their churches.

During the 2016 election, for example, polls found evangelical pastors ranked Mr. Trump last among Republican candidates while ordinary evangelicals consistently put the malcontent mogul at the top of their lists…

A 2016 survey by LifeWay Research found that despite claiming to be Christians, most Americans hold unorthodox and even heretical beliefs. That’s not very surprising. What is surprising, however, were the findings when LifeWay used strict criteria to isolate the responses of committed evangelicals. As reported by G. Shane Morris, “Everyone expected [evangelicals] to perform better than most Americans. No one expected them to perform worse.” LifeWay found that evangelicals were more likely than Americans in general to hold heretical beliefs about Jesus, the Trinity, and salvation. Based on the survey, if you’re curious about the Bible and Christian faith you’re better off asking a stranger on the street than the average churchgoing evangelical.

Despite an emphasis on the Bible and teaching in most evangelical churches, and despite the avalanche of resources offered via evangelical media and publishing, ordinary evangelicals are not being shaped by the orthodox views held by the elite evangelicals producing this content.

Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest ordinary evangelicals are not adopting the views of their own pastors on key matters of doctrine either. Roughly half of evangelicals have dispensational beliefs about the end times. (Think Left Behind, the rapture, antichrist, etc.) While a much smaller percentage of evangelical pastors hold these views, and among pastors with seminary and theological training—the evangelical elites—the number drops even lower.

So, the data suggests there are dramatically different sets of theological, cultural, and political views held by those leading evangelical institutions and those populating them. Of course, one should expect some distance between the views of leaders and followers within any group. After all, without a gap there is no where for leaders to lead.

However, the dramatic disparities now evident between elite and average evangelicals on politics, social issues, public policies, and even doctrine is alarming. It signals something much more disturbing and, I fear, unsustainable. It verifies the divide Michael Lindsay identified a decade ago, now, however, the gap may be so wide that it may be incorrect to call elite evangelicals “leaders” at all, because if no one is following are they really leading?…

…I’ve also spoken to administrators at evangelical colleges navigating increasingly frequent conflicts between faculty (elite evangelical) and the parents of students (ordinary evangelicals) who are distrustful of campuses that affirm political, cultural, and intellectual diversity. The “big tent” evangelicalism championed by Billy Graham 70 years ago and embraced by institutions like Fuller, Wheaton, and Gordon is being challenged by siege-mentality evangelicals wanting a safe place for their kids to avoid liberals and their ideas. “We haven’t moved one inch from our evangelical convictions,” one exasperated university official told me. “It’s the people in the churches who’ve changed.”

I suspect in the coming years there will be a reckoning. Apart from a dramatic realignment or unforeseen intervention, the center will not hold and the divide between elite and ordinary evangelicals will become an irreparable breach. Evangelical’s elites will find themselves having to choose between finding new pastures or maintaining their institutions by falling in line with, rather than shepherding, the sheep.

As the divorce between elite and ordinary evangelicals becomes more likely, one question remains unanswered. Who will get the kids?


Again, that was highlights; you’re encouraged to scroll back up and click on the title to read it all. You might want to send the link to friends as well. I received a copy of this in email this morning because I’m subscribed to Skye’s newsletter.

 

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