Thinking Out Loud

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.



August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.

An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

January 18, 2016

Letter from Liberty University

Dear Mom and Dad,

Sorry I missed you when I tried to phone.

It’s hard to believe I’m already in my second semester of my freshman year. Classes are going well, and I was able to get a good deal on some textbooks.

I just wanted to tell you about something that happened today, because you’ll probably see it on the evening news.

Today Donald Trump came to speak to our chapel service. Well, it’s not really a chapel service, because calling it that messes up something; maybe it’s the accreditation, or state funding, or something. So they call it Convocation.

Anyway, Trump came to speak. Everybody was expected to attend. Somebody said there’s a $10 fine for skipping chapel, er, Convocation, so I went. The place was packed. Our president, Jerry Falwell Jr. took about 18 minutes — I checked the time on my phone — to introduce him, and mostly talked about the history of the college. I mean, we thought he was introducing Trump, but I think he kinda lost his way, not to mention spilling a glass of water and having his phone go off in the middle.

Then finally, Donald Trump walked on to the stage at our school, and spoke for 50 minutes.

Between that and being told last semester all the students should get a concealed carry permit — I mean nobody in our family even owns a hunting rifle — I’m kinda wondering what I’m doing here. I keep thinking that some people, like the Amish and the Mennonites and the Anabaptists don’t mix their politics with their faith the way we do here at Liberty U. And they get by without guns, too. And I’m reading that in other countries they don’t think like Americans do about religion and politics being so intertwined.

A few of my classmates are from Canada and they just roll their eyes anytime someone mentions government, or the debates, or the primaries or the election. They say it’s got nothing to do with what we are supposed to be learning.

Myself and two people in our dorm are driving to Pennsylvania this weekend to visit an Amish community. We’ve been invited to stay overnight. Some of them have a deal where you can do an extended stay and work with them on their farms. I’m thinking perhaps instead of doing my sophomore year right away I might —

–sorry, my R.A. is calling me to a dorm meeting. I’ll write again.

P.S.: Can you find out if we have any relatives in Canada?

Watch the entire Donald Trump event at Liberty (69 minutes) below or at this link.

March 9, 2012

Eric Metaxas Addresses The National Prayer Breakfast

A most unusual presentation from the author of the current bestseller Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas is a very engaging and humorous speaker, but obviously not the usual pastor-type that gets an invite to speak at these things. If you’ve got 30 minutes…

February 17, 2012

C. S. Lewis, not C. S. Lewis C.B.E.

Across the pond, Tim Chester reported this a few weeks ago:

A freedom of information request has led to the disclosure of people who declined official honours from the Queen as part of the British honour system. I was interested to notice that among them was CS Lewis. Lewis turned down a CBE in 1952…

A reader quickly noted that the story had been shared previously by Lewis’ brother; as relayed by Timothy Keller:

C. S. Lewis' death the same day as John F. Kennedy was so under-reported, some Mere Christianity and Narnia readers believe he is still living.

In his unpublished biography of his brother C. S. Lewis, W. H. “Warnie” Lewis related how in late 1951 his brother received a letter from Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In it, Churchill offered to recommend him for a C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire). 

The C.B.E. is one class in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a chivalric order established to recognize gallantry and service to the Empire, and Lewis was nominated to appear on the last list of honours of King George VI, in December, 1951. It was an extremely coveted honor, and evidently it was offered to Lewis for his public service for writing and broadcasting during the war. 

In a letter to the Prime Minister’s secretary Lewis turned down the offer, which was very unusual. “I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable,” he wrote. However, he added that many people said or believed that Christianity is basically, “covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.” (W. Hooper, ed. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, volume III, p. 147.) 

Over the years some other notable figures have turned down membership in the Order of the British Empire, but usually it was as a political protest against some aspect of British government or policy. In Lewis’ case the reasoning was completely different. He knew that if Churchill, a Conservative politician, recommended him for the order it would only lend credence to what people believed about the Christian faith, namely, that it was not really about truth, but was rather a tool for non-progressive political interests. Lewis refused to let a political entity reward him for Christian service, fearing it would identify Christianity too closely with one political system. 

Keller goes on to say that similar suspicions about Christianity continue to this day. Especially in an election year — Keller was writing in March of 2011 — people want to equate religion and politics, and he notes that there will be times when the “truth claims” of Christianity will intersect with political ideology.  But then they take it a step too far when they believe that upholding a particular position is “doing the will of God.”

C. S.Lewis refused to be a part of that. He was far-sighted.In our country over the last 60 years, alliances between churches and politics have resulted in many people dismissing Christianity as only “the Conservative (or) Liberal party at prayer.” The results have been destructive (as we discussed in last month’s newsletter article on ‘Civility.’)

That doesn’t mean Christ-following is completely apolitical — though it is in its purest form — or that we don’t have an interest in what’s going on in government.  Keller adds,

[W]e believe that the gospel shapes all areas of life. Christians can and should be involved in government, and their Christian faith will be the driving force behind how they engage in politics as well as how they evaluate many policy issues. Also, Redeemer teaches God’s word and often what the Bible says will have public policy implications that are direct and/or indirect. But Christians must not implicitly or explicitly identify their Christianity with political figures and parties.That has always been the balance we have tried to strike in our ministryin the city. It is tempting of course, when the honours of earthly kings are offered to us for doing Christian ministry. C. S. Lewis allowed the honor of the King of Kings to be enough for him.

Got a friend who is an avid Lewis fan?  Send her or him this link to Keller’s article.

February 5, 2011

Obama’s Transparency About His Personal Faith

After hearing U.S. President Barak Obama’s speech at this week’s National Prayer Breakfast, I can say this without contradiction:  The problem is not that the president is ambigious about his faith, the problem is that most North Americans are not as clear and unequivocal about what they believe.

CNN News has very kindly provided its online readers not only with a short video providing a visual snapshot of that morning, but the full text of Obama’s speech that day.

…[L]et me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith. The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, as many of you know, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”

As well, he states categorically that faith matters transcend political differences:

It’s also comforting to know that people are praying for you who don’t always agree with you. Tom Coburn, for example, is here. He is not only a dear friend but also a brother in Christ. We came into the Senate at the same time. Even though we are on opposite sides of a whole bunch of issues, part of what has bound us together is a shared faith, a recognition that we pray to and serve the same God…

My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years. All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

He even provides a glimpse into his personal prayer life.

We see an aging parent wither under a long illness, or we lose a daughter or a husband in Afghanistan, we watch a gunman open fire in a supermarket – and we remember how fleeting life can be. And we ask ourselves how have we treated others, whether we’ve told our family and friends how much we love them. And it’s in these moments, when we feel most intensely our mortality and our own flaws and the sins of the world, that we most desperately seek to touch the face of God…

…When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.

I say these prayers hoping they will be answered, and I say these prayers knowing that I must work and must sacrifice and must serve to see them answered. But I also say these prayers knowing that the act of prayer itself is a source of strength. It’s a reminder that our time on Earth is not just about us; that when we open ourselves to the possibility that God might have a larger purpose for our lives, there’s a chance that somehow, in ways that we may never fully know, God will use us well.

Watch the video and read the full text at CNN’s Belief Blog.

Here are a couple of footnotes to Thursday’s speech that you’ll find as you peruse other parts of CNN Belief:

  • The annual prayer breakfast is hosted by The Family aka The Fellowship Foundation.   While thousands gathered inside, a group of about thirty protested outside, claiming the foundation is involved with supporting anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
  • A day later, on Friday, Obama released the names of twelve more Americans appointed to the White House’s multi-faith advisory council, including Nancy Wilson head of the Metropolitan Community Church, a large denomination mostly serving those who identify as  LGBT, and Lynne Hybels, wife of Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels.  Click for a complete list and biography of all twelve appointees.
  • Spin is everything.  The executive director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt is quoted at Secular News Daily: “President Obama’s remarks acknowledge that children can be raised with a strong moral and ethical foundation, free from the presence of dogmatic religion. He’s living proof that one can lead a successful, moral, and dedicated life of service without the drumbeat of religion in one’s upbringing. The humanist community has fought for the validation of this fact, and to hear the President of the United States echo the sentiment is gratifying.”
  • While political observers filled the blogosphere with reports on the event, my fellow Alltop Church and Alltop Christianity bloggers seemed to steer clear of it; surprising since most are U.S.-based.  The one who did comment, was actually there, but Eugene Cho commented only briefly, and the provided the text of last year’s speech by the President.
  • Other events at the prayer breakfast, including an appearance by space shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Gifford, are covered at this report at The Underground.

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