Success or the Cross? (More on Trump and Evangelicals)

I am hardly the only, and surely the least significant, religious conservative writing about the problems related to the Trump-evangelical association. Michael Horton has a helpful piece in the Washington Post this week detailing Trump’s heretical advisors, and Philip Yancey also has an excellent piece on Trump and the evangelicals. Some thoughts:

Horton fills in some of the gaps for us on Trump’s “evangelical” associates, most of whom are Prosperity Gospel and Word of Faith preachers and televangelists. They value success above everything, so Trump is something like a logical fit. You can practically hear Satan in the background whispering his temptations to Christ in the wilderness (“All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me”). And the false teachers’ response echoes what I’m sure mine would have been had I been there in Jesus’ place: “All of that?!? I can do a lot of good with all of that. And, I can avoid suffering by doing it this way. Count me in!” (Please don’t mishear me here: Trump is not the Devil. But he is a temptation to those who want to find worldly influence without going the way of suffering; that is, he is a temptation to the followers of the Prosperity Gospel.)

Jesus’ way of success is the Cross. Redemptive suffering and faithfulness unto death are the weapons that God uses to advance His Kingdom in this world. Prosperity and worldly success are sometimes given by God to His people (maybe to test our faithfulness), and just as often (more often?) God gives wealth and success to the unrighteous. This is the unanimous witness of Scripture, such that the Psalmists regularly cry out, “why do the wicked prosper?” Yep, it’s part of the package of living life in this fallen, not fully redeemed world. We can expect better in the eschaton, but we are not there yet. We are drawn to power because we think that must be the way that God works, because that’s the way that everyone else seems to work. Mercifully, God is not everyone else; His ways are not our ways. We can put off the ways of the world and follow Christ, the perfect image of God the Father. American Christians, like all Christians, are drawn to certain kinds of temptations. Horton gives us a clue as to the heresies that most tempt us.

Yancey is an excellent writer, and his piece mostly squares with what I have written about the same topic here and here, so it’s clearly the kind of thing I would be inclined to like. But he also adds some helpful insights that got me thinking. My reflections on Yancey’s thoughts:

  1. He claims that the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump is higher than the numbers of the same who voted for any nominee over the last three presidential elections. In fact, Trump apparently won the white evangelical vote by more than almost every presidential candidate, equalling George H.W. Bush in 1988, who also won 81% of the white evangelical vote (interestingly, Clinton’s 16% is less than the 18% Dukakis won in that year). This fits a narrative that I have had a hard time shaking – Trump is our candidate. My tribe elected him, and I find that particularly disturbing. I have started to put it this way in my own mind: Clinton was a threat; Trump is a temptation. We were prepared for the frontal assault on our values if Clinton was elected. The guards were at least going up. We are not prepared for this. We are not ready, our guards are down. In fact, we think he is our guy. I am strongly convinced that he will not be. Misogyny, xenophobia, greed, failure to repent, distrust, incivility, pride are not evangelical values. These are worldly values that Trump embodies. I’m not worried about the fact that Trump is president – we have rarely if ever had really godly leaders – but I am surprised that evangelicals made him president. That, clearly, says more about evangelicals than it says about the virtues of President Trump.
  2. Yancey looks at values that lost in this election: civility, religion, and truth. Yes. In this world and its politics, something good will pretty much always lose. That’s the nature of the world. These just happen to be the values that lost in 2016. These, I would hope, will be some of the values that evangelicals will emphasize, as an alternative to the ways of the world. I would add sacrificial love and hospitality. Can we agree to put those at the top of our list over this next four years?
  3. Citing Keller, Yancey shows a list of political issues that Christians should take seriously; half are “liberal” issues and half are “conservative” ones. That is as it should be. We are not of this world, our Kingdom is outside the ways of America, our values are different than the values of Republicans and Democrats. So, why are we so consistently Republican as a community? It is maddening that we have gone from a swing demographic (50-50 in 1976) to a solidly Republican one (81-16-3 in 2016, with Trump as the Republican nominee). White evangelicals are a constituency of the Republican Party. We are, as has been quipped, “the Republican Party at prayer”. In this case, we are one with the world. We are not a city on a hill, our salt has lost its saltiness.

Brother Yancey ends with a call that Christians reestablish ourselves as resident aliens in the world and stop operating as settled citizens. We are pioneers establishing communities of the New Creation; we are ambassadors setting up embassies for a Kingdom not of this world; we are gospel-centered people living out good news in a world without hope. This should lead us to fighting with the weapons of the Kingdom of God, not the weapons of the world.

Horton and Yancey call for a realignment: away from success, power, and wealth and toward an alien, weak, foolish way of walking in the world. Away from Trump and Trump-style religion and toward the Kingdom of a crucified Jewish carpenter.

Blessings in Christ our King,

Josh

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