And now, Network Christianity

Lots of Christians supported Donald Trump, for many different reasons.  Some didn’t approve of him, but thought that he would be better than Hillary Clinton.  Some thought Trump would be more favorable to the pro-life cause.  Some thought he would be better on religious liberty.  Some thought Trump would bring more jobs, shake up the status quo, and make America great again.  Most Christians who supported him probably did so for various of these reasons.  But some apparently supported him for theological reasons.

Did you notice how a number of Pentecostal groups, particularly those influenced by TV preachers, were with Trump from the beginning and expressed no qualms about some of his questionable behavior?

According to a recent book on the subject by Brad Christerson and Richard Flory (published by Oxford University Press), there is  a new movement within Pentecostal and charismatic circles.  The authors call it “Independent Network Charismatic”–or “INC”–Christianity.  It doesn’t focus on evangelism or building congregations, nor speaking in tongues or performing miracles.  Though of course Pentecostalists and charismatics continue to care about and to practice such things, this particular strain is solely about acquiring influence.  And it is based not at all on a church, but on independent networks of leaders known as “Apostles.”

INC Christianity teaches that there are “seven mountains of culture”:  business, government, media, arts & entertainment, education, family, and religion.  The idea is that if Christians “capture” each of these mountains–that is, assume leadership in these fields–the nation’s problems will be solved and they will “bring heaven to earth.”

These Network Christians still believe in signs and wonders:  They are convinced that one of them was the election of Donald Trump, whom they consider to be God’s chosen agent to bring in the kingdom of Heaven on earth.

These are not to be confused with Dominionists or Theonomists, who are Calvinists.  Nor do they seem to be millennialists, either pre- or post-, though I could be wrong about that.  (Please enlighten me if you know.)  They are charismatics, seeing leadership in all of these areas as a sort of spiritual gift. UPDATE:  They also strike me as applying the “prosperity gospel”–which these groups also hold to–on the national level.  These leaders are part of the New Apostolic Reformation movement, which more fully accounts for their theology.

I suspect all Christians who support Trump or who are active in politics or who seek cultural impact will get tarred with this brush.  You can ascend those seven mountains–if that is your vocation–without buying into the theology behind these “networks.”  But you should be aware that this new social gospel is in the air. [Read more…]

Pastors with bodyguards and food-tasters

J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma Magazine, takes some of his fellow Pentecostalists to task, urging that they drop six specific teachings and practices.  What particularly interests me here is what he says about some Pentecostal pastors.  They reason that they have been “anointed” by the Holy Spirit; therefore, they are the ‘Lord’s anointed.”  Therefore the pastors take on the modern-day-equivalent perks of the Davidic monarchy, including the right not to be criticized and having “armor bearers”–that is, an entourage including bodyguards, food-tasters, someone to carry their briefcase, someone else to carry their Bible, and people throwing dollar bills at their feet.

Lutheran and other pastors, try to get this past your board of elders and your voters’ assemblies!  Then again, elders and voters–especially those with a higher view of the pastoral office than the Pentecostals have–might learn from them to treat their pastors at least a little better!  I’ll volunteer for food-taster. The list of practices after the jump. [Read more…]

Snake handling

Julia Duin is a Christian journalist who is a real pro.  She has a long story in the Washington Post Magazine on West Virginia snake handlers.  What I appreciate is that she approaches these mountain Pentecostalists with utter respect,without a shred of condescension or ridicule.  She does, though, describe the desperate social context of these folks–the lack of jobs and young people, the rampant drug abuse in these rural areas–though this isn’t the cause of snake handling, which itself is in decline compared to more prosperous times.  Apparently, even these declining churches are trying church growth methods:  They now have electric guitars and drums.  I much prefer the rattlesnakes and strychnine.  Anyway, the profile is very Flannery O’Connoresque and very much worth reading:  In W.Va., snake handling is still considered a sign of faith – The Washington Post.

Oral Roberts, mainline Protestant

The blog GetReligion, which critiques media coverage of religion, points out that most obituaries of Oral Roberts are missing the point. First, as Mollie Hemingway points out, he was NOT the patriarch of the prosperity gospel. Journalists are confusing him with fellow-Tulsan Kenneth Hagin. In fact, Roberts was associated with critics of that movement. Also, Roberts, despite his roots in backwoods Pentecostalism, was a member of the mainline United Methodist Church. His main significance, argues Terry Mattingly, is that he represents the way Pentecostalism found its way into mainline denominations and morphed into the charismatic movement.

I myself prefer him in his old days as a TV faith healer, which, whatever its validity, was spellbinding television. Later, after he founded Oral Roberts University and broadcast from his prayer tower, his show became slick and insufferable, but those black and white broadcasts of the sweaty, shouting preacher was great TV. And if you read Flannery O’Connor–say, “The Violent Bear It Away”–you would appreciate it, even if you didn’t believe it.