Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
By John Fea
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018, 238 pages
As I’ve related several times in the past, I’m a bit of a square peg when it comes to evangelical churchianity. Two issues that I feel very strongly about are ecumenism and Christian nationalism. I’m strongly opposed to the ecumenical compromise and betrayal of the Gospel going on in the more liberal-leaning, “progressive” evangelical churches, but I agree with them on their criticism of Christian nationalism. On the other hand, I appreciate the strong stand by fundamentalist and (many) conservative evangelical churches against ecumenism, but their flag waving and focus on preserving America as a “Christian nation” are turn-offs.
The misguided notion of America being a “Christian nation” in some kind of covenantal relationship with God has been preached from pulpits since the Puritans and has led to all kinds of errors and misguided thinking. With the rise of secularism in the 1960s and 70s, Jerry Falwell and others rallied the church to enter into politics and “reclaim America for Jesus,” leading to a deemphasis of the Gospel and yoking with conservative religious unbelievers to fight the culture wars.
I rarely venture into politics in this blog, but a person would have to be living on an island not to notice how American evangelicals have strongly supported candidate and President Trump. I get why evangelicals voted for “the lesser of two evils” in 2016, but the often-unqualified support for the improbable Trump goes far beyond that (see Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr.).
In this book, historian and progressive evangelical, John Fea, critically examines the history of the popular-but-false notion of America as a “Christian Nation,” the rise of Falwellism, and evangelicals’ unusual support for a man who is often at odds with their Biblical codes of godly morality and decorum. I agree with much of the information that’s presented in respect to the above issues. Christians needn’t (and shouldn’t) be driven by fear or by the nostalgia for a mythical past from which a “Let’s Make America Great Again” campaign draws its strength.
However, this book is not without its problems and they relate to my opening paragraph. Fea is an ecumenist who is eager to embrace as a believer everyone who names the name of Jesus, including Martin Luther King*, Hillary Clinton, and Roman Catholics. The consequence of such belief is a watered down, worthless gospel. It’s quite ironic that the thinking of both theologically liberal and politically-engaged conservative evangelicals results in a tendency toward ecumenism, but for different reasons.
I’m not trying to start a squabble. I understand that many conservative evangelicals still embrace the notion of America as a “Christian nation” and that it’s difficult for them to relinquish that viewpoint. After all, faith and nationalism have been combined by American pastors since 1776. From an even broader perspective, Christians have struggled since the first century to find the right balance between the spiritual and the temporal. Unfortunately much of the legacy we’ve inherited has been skewed far too far to the temporal. We believers are citizens of Heaven and ambassadors of our Lord as we sojourn on this Earth. Let’s “keep our bags packed” and forego putting down deep roots in a world that is passing away.
*Some may be taken aback by my comments about Martin Luther King not being a Christian. Wasn’t he a Baptist minister? MLK certainly deserves our respect for his efforts to advance the cause of civil rights, but he was a theological modernist and a propagator of the social gospel who did not believe the Bible and did not preach the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. See my post about MLK here.