Are Evangelicals Moving Forward or Backward? (Hanna Rosin)

Part of me feels like I should just step aside and let Jeff and Michael duke this one out, because I’m really interested in this question of the cosmopolitans and the populists, and who counts as which, and who is more prominent, and who is new. When I was researching the history of Christian conservatives’ involvement in politics, I sort of lost the thread around the early eighties. Before that it was relatively clear. If you loved Billy Graham and Christianity Today you were an evangelical. If not, you were sticking with the fundamentalists.

Then came Carter, and suddenly everyone was involved, and it was hard to pick them apart. Premillenialists like Tim LaHaye were sounding like Methodists and urging everyone to fix our broken nation. Baptists were running for office, sometimes against other Baptists. I asked LaHaye this basic question once–Why does someone with such a strong premillenialist streak get so exercised about earthly politics?–but he dismissed the question as the product of the biased left wing media trying to exclude people like him from politics.
I’m still sort of confused. Jerry, do you have an answer for me?
For the moment I’m going with Jeff’s phrase–fundamentalist avant-garde. That seems the most descriptive of, say, the kids at Patrick Henry College, who are still pretty fundamentalist in their theology but wildly ambitious on a grand, national scale (“the genes that tilt American democracy toward messianic empire,” as Jeff put it).
One thing stops me about this description, though. Temperamentally, they don’t behave like an avant-garde. They inherited this idiom from their fundamentalist parents but they don’t speak it with the same rebel yell. Their true ambitions are more respectable–spouse, some small fraction of ten kids, decent elected office.
So Jeff, are you saying this business about evangelicals newly in the halls of power is overblown? They’ve always been there and we just haven’t noticed? Or a new segment of them has recently appeared and merged with the old?
Here is something that’s perfectly emblematic to me about this confused moment in evangelical, fundamentalist, whatever you want to call it involvement in politics: Bob Jones III’s endorsement of Mitt Romney. Romney, as we all know, is a Mormon, and we can all imagine what the talk is around the Jones dinner table about the Mormon creed. Hillary Clinton is a lifelong Methodist who has tried hard to make peace with religious America but is only getting cold hard stares back.
Is this the temper of the new fundamentalist avant-garde, still freely offensive about Mormonism but more practical minded in their political alliances? (“As a Christian I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism,” Jones said. “But I’m not voting for a preacher. I’m voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs.”) Does this represent progress and political sophistication? Or ever more backwardness? Is this yet more evidence of how Christians have sold their soul for a seat at the table? At the very least, I have to say there is something unseemly, un-Christian one might even say, at the community’s salivating over the prospects of She-Devil’s nomination.
One final question: What do you all think about the influence of the traditional family values organizations? The conventional wisdom is that it’s waning. They’re saying they’re raising as much money as ever. It’s hard to figure this out before we know who the nominees are, but curious on your views.

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Jerry B. Jenkins

posted October 19, 2007 at 11:21 am

Why does someone with such a strong premillenialist streak get so exercised about earthly politics?–but he dismissed the question as the product of the biased left wing media trying to exclude people like him from politics.
I’m still sort of confused. Jerry, do you have an answer for me?
Sorry, Hanna; that confuses me too. I do think Dr. LaHaye has every right to be as political as he wants, but I just don’t lean that way. One of the criticisms of “us” — and that’s a broad “us” — is that because we think we’re going to be rescued from this cold, cruel world someday, we don’t care about the ills of society. Speaking only for me, I again aver that a true follower of Christ cares about what He cares about, and that is people. Where they are hurting, hungry, diseased, penniless, etc., that is where we should be. And if we really believe Jesus will return and rapture true believers some day, we should at least offer everyone the opportunity to be part of that.
As we have no idea when that might be (Jesus told His disciples that not even He knew but only His Father), we must be about the work of Christ, which was always focused on the less privileged (His words, “the least of these”), and He said that what we do — or don’t do — for them “is as unto Me.”

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Prima scriptura

posted October 19, 2007 at 12:23 pm

The reason that Evangelicals are so hated by the Progressives, is that they care too much for what’s happening in society. Since the ills of society are continually conjured up by people that always think of themselves as rising above the common man (Progresives, aristocrats, enlightned, educated elites etc., etc.,) Evangelicals have always been seperated from those that willingly hold onto and even perpetuate rebellion, abominations, perversions and false teachings. Interesting when looked at through the lens of scripture, that “Progressive” ideology is just age old sin and rebellion repackaged from age to age with a new moniker to mask the truth of what it really is.
Let’s hear from the past:
Not “New Revelations” Apart From Scripture
This spiritual light is not the suggesting of any new truths or propositions not contained in the word of God. This suggesting of new truths or doctrines to the mind, independent of any antecedent revelation of those propositions, either in word or writing, is inspiration; such as the prophets and apostles had, and such as some enthusiasts pretend to. But this spiritual light that I am speaking of, is quite a different thing from inspiration: it reveals no new doctrine, it suggests no new proposition to the mind, it teaches no new thing of God, or Christ, or another world, not taught in the Bible, but only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the word of God.
From (a part of):
A Sermon by Jonathan Edwards
[Preached at Northampton, and published at the desire of some of the hearers, in the year 1734.]

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posted October 19, 2007 at 2:10 pm

I believe what Jerry has described as the responsibility of a “true follower of Christ”, a large percentage of evangelicals would say is the government’s responsibility. A role the government cherishes but is fairly inept at executing. I would also say, that most contemporary evangelical churches would not be much better equipped for the task. That does not dismiss “us” from the responsibility, it merely calls us to greater recognition of our intended role as disciples of Christ.

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posted October 19, 2007 at 2:26 pm

I can’t help but think at this point about the purpose of government. Are we forgetting that “government” is us, the American people? Whether believers, unbelievers, evangelicals, or otherwise. Don’t we have a responsibility to lead our government in the direction we want it to go? How can we criticize “it” if we ARE “it” – one person at a time. And yes, it may begin somewhere in a soup kitchen.

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