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December 11, 2017

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Evangelicals Flee The “E” Word

Related imagePeter Wehner is scraping off both the evangelical and Republican labels as he marches with the somber, disillusioned throng. Like many, he says he hasn’t changed; but, like many, he’s discovered that evangelicals and Republicans have mutated into zombies of their former selves.

Peter Wehner

Peter Wehner 

The senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who served in three Republican administrations, wrote this in a December 9 New York Times op-ed piece: “In many important ways (Republicans and evangelicals) are having harmful effects on our society.” Alabama Republican US Senate candidate Roy Moore is the latest sign of evangelical and GOP moral decay. Polls of the state’s believers show strong support for an alleged pedophile.

Wehner writes:

The support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. Not because my attachment to conservatism and Christianity has weakened, but rather the opposite. I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the “good news” of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness.

He remembers conversations with two pastors and a Christian leader. One pastor said “the term is now so stained as to ruin my ability to be what evangelicalism was supposed to be.” Another claims it’s now a political designation, and the leader says it’s dwindled to a “tribal description.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article here.

Perhaps evangelicalism’s strength became its weakness. It’s always been an amorphous mass of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists, and others crowding a back-to-the-Bible movement summoning Protestants to their muddy roots. Which means evangelicalism is as neat as a frat house following a keg party. Pentecostals, for example, are an evangelical subset embracing the so-called gifts of the Holy Spirit; many Calvinists and Dispensationalists think the gifts went extinct at the close of the first century.

And there’s no magisterium or pope. No white-haired, mitered eclisiast says yea or nay over any given teaching. That’s why Joel Osteen is grouped with evangelicals even though most frown on his health-and-wealth teaching.

The lack of authority meant no one could stomp the movement out, but it also paved the path for Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell (Senior and Junior), Pat Robertson, and others. They hijacked the term and twisted it into a GOP-manipulated force now sitting in Trump’s lap. A sad consequence: Like Wehner, many traditional evangelicals find they have no choice but to scrape off the label.

 

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December 8, 2017

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Hope Springs In The Ruins

branch growth plant wood leaf flower live spring green grow soil yellow onion sprout egg seedling close up hope easter resurrection shoots macro photography live new scion renew developing germ plant stem

There’s genuine hope. Honest. It lingers on the margins, beyond the world of wayward religious moguls fawning over dubious politicians. It even pokes its head on center stage and waves hello.

Discerning Advent-like hope is a real discipline in this era of hijacked evangelicalism. We read the I-can’t-believe-you-said-that pronouncements and despair. Take Franklin Graham’s December 1st tweet: “Never in my lifetime have we had a @POTUS willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like @realDonaldTrump. We need to get behind him with our prayers.”

Sure. Pray by all means. But Donald Trump as the faithful guardian? Really? Doesn’t anyone remember another POTUS named Jimmy Carter? Shane Claiborne’s stark reply isn’t off the mark: “I’m not sure we are worshipping the same Savior. The priorities of Jesus seem so different from the priorities of Trump.”

Despondency threatens – until we discipline ourselves and see beyond the kingpins and microphones and tweets.

View the untold story in the 2016 election. True, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, with some christening him as God’s candidate. Many still support him. But roughly a third of all back-to-the-Bible American Christians are not white, vast majorities of whom voted against him and remain less than thrilled. Don’t be surprised if the evangelical movement, now in moral and spiritual freefall, resurrects through those communities, perhaps bearing a different name.

Timothy_KellerSecond, we find hope even among pale faces who’ve abandoned the “e” word but fit with its heritage. There’s the recently-retired Rev. Timothy Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which draws 5,000 to its three venues.

That’s right. A megachurch thrives in iniquitous Gotham. It can happen.

Keller is known for his intellectual acumen, theological integrity and orthodoxy, and graciousness. Almost half his former congregation is not white and the church as a whole is politically centrist. Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work implements the thought of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a 19th-century Dutch Calvinist theologian and politician who, among other things, saw our professions as ministries. Kuyper hammered out a theoretical approach in which Christians link up with others and seek the common good, and Keller has been the Kuyperian par excellence. He avoids the culture war and walks the walk of Christ’s grace. The church he planted carries on that task.

I’m not a Calvinist – partly because I’m weary of the tradition’s grim heretic hunters – but Keller shines light on its more ecumenical, gracious stream. Think of theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) and institutions like Calvin College. They thirst for God and engage the culture.  They’ll even crack a smile.

Image result for beth mooreThird, there’s Beth Moore. The Houston-based Bible teacher and speaker still talks the evangelical talk, complete with an Arkansas-reared accent and invocations of a personal Satan (I find that refreshing and I agree with her). She can be a hoot.

But she’s clearly not happy with her tribe. Read her November 14th tweet: “It’s been a harrowing trip to Oz for many evangelicals this year, the curtain pulled back on the wizards of cause. We found a Bible all right, seemingly used instead of applied, leveraged instead of obeyed, cut and pasted piecemeal into a pledge of allegiance to serve the served.” And her pinned tweet: “It will become increasingly vital that we learn to distinguish between what is pro-Christian and what is actually Christlike.” And her anti-tyrant tweet: “There’s a sick line of shared reasoning on perpetual repeat in the minds of racists, bigots, white supremacists, misogynists & sexists: If we give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. Here’s the shocker: It’s not your inch. Claiming ownership over God’s property is perilous hubris.”

I admit it. I’m now a Beth Moore groupie.

There’s even hope for our beleaguered Earth. Ed Brown, director and CEO of Care of Related imageCreation, travels the world in his efforts to halt climate change and help Third World farmers employ sustainable, eco-friendly agricultural methods. He also heads up the creation care network for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and, in that capacity, has spearheaded conferences on several continents. Brown and others belie the myth that all evangelicals yearn for the golden day of environmental catastrophe.

I’ve met many like Brown: Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe; Lowell Bliss of Eden Vigil; John Elwood of Beloved Planet; the hilarious Gordon College Professor Dorothy Boorse. Then there are ministries like the Vineyard Justice Network, Biologos, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and many more. All remind me of the graceful believers who wooed me to Christ through their love, holiness, and sheer fun.

All display budding hope even as calamity strikes. We can see it when we silence the tweet storms and look past the publicity hounds.

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December 6, 2017

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Hats Off To Calvinists Urging Integrity

At least one evangelical clan hasn’t rowed down the river of political slime. The bloc of enthusiastic Calvinists over at the Gospel Coalition, co-founded by Donald A. Carson and Timothy Keller, still urges morality and principle. Perhaps that’s because Calvinism, or Reformed theology, nurtures a sophisticated approach to cultural engagement that embraces science, the arts, […]

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December 3, 2017

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Advent: The Antidote To Power’s Venom

Believe it or not, today’s disparate clashes congeal into a single blob. Sexual harassment, win-at-any-price tax legislation, and nakedly partisan religious leaders all signal warped power. We’re bobbing and weaving on a wave of tyrannical power that oppresses the weak, stomps the environment, and breathes fear into an intimate, holy, life-creating, covenantal, and rapturous act. […]

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October 24, 2017

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Subversive Prayer In An Era Of Rage

Cross-published from the HuffPost The Good Book tells us “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). So how do we pray for an administration with a chip on its shoulder? A shaking fist and a beat-red face accompany policies birthed […]

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September 5, 2017

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Religious Heads Rebuke Trump on DACA

I’m sure glad my Norwegian, wagon-maker great-grandfather didn’t live to see this day. He didn’t speak a word of English and was probably already infected with tuberculosis. No way he’d pass muster with the Trump administration. They’d ship him back to the old country. Trump and his minions, once again, left many slack-jawed, with key […]

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September 5, 2017

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A Woman For All Seasons

Okay, so I’m not a Roman Catholic. Why should that stop me from celebrating laudable brothers and sisters in the Mother Church? Saint Teresa of Calcutta is one of them. Today, September 5th, is her feast day. I could be an obnoxious Baptist and use this moment to riddle Catholics for lifting up certain individuals […]

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September 2, 2017

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I’m no fan of Joel Osteen, but …

In the words of Damon Linker,  “Twitter is destroying America.” It victimizes even the offensive. Take Joel Osteen, the senior pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, which holds 16,800 seats and plays host to 52,000 weekly attendees. Despite his disclaimers , Osteen at least veers close to promoting the Prosperity Gospel, which says God inevitably blesses the […]

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August 11, 2017

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A Methodist & Church Father Walk Into A Pub …

Maybe John Wesley wasn’t such a doctrinal avant-gardist after all. It seems esteemed church fathers anticipated his most hot-potato teaching, the one that squirms prim Calvinists. The 18th-century Anglican priest, British evangelist and accidental founder of Methodism confounds some of John Calvin’s die-hard fans, who often conceive themselves as Protestant orthodoxy’s guardians and weigh all […]

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August 10, 2017

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It’s in every corner of the Bible: God loves the downtrodden

Cross-published on the HuffPost. I couldn’t escape. There was no exit. I longed to crawl into a pitch-black cave between chemotherapy sessions while GOP Senate leaders repeatedly hurled their proposals to cut off my Medicaid. I was all brawl at first, but I felt flattened as the dystopian proposals snaked their way through the House […]

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