Hope Springs In The Ruins

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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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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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