The single biggest mistake of the neo-evangelical coalition, and here I’m thinking of the late 70s through the 80s and into the 90s, was its decision to glue itself to the Republican Party. Led by the architects — Francis Schaeffer, James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson — neo-evangelicalism lost its single-minded evangelical focus. Instead, it was intoxicated with the potential power in winning the culture war, and nothing represented its hope more than overturning Roe v. Wade. (That never happened, as you know.)
In 1981 I showed up at the University of Nottingham, and in one of my first sessions with my professor, Jimmy Dunn, he observed to me that what was going on in the culture wars in the USA was a huge mistake for the evangelical movement. He further observed that politics has its swings — now GOP soon Dem and back and forth — and that when it swung the other way, it would be the church — not the Republicans — that would lose.
The evangelical movement lost its Faustian bargain. It is everywhere evident. It has been scolded, shamed, and it has tried to recover. Will it learn that it cannot sustain the confidence of the public if it aligns itself politically? Will it learn that the way to change culture is through faithful witness and not through the grasping at power? Will it learn that the church — I mean a gospel shaped church, and by gospel I mean the Jesus and apostolic gospel — is a politic? A different politic? Not one marked by power, but by the cross and resurrection and where we follow the enthroned Lord of all?
Some young evangelicals have walked away entirely, some into other traditions, in order to escape the orneriness, combativeness and stridency of partisan politics ruining the opportunity to speak either the gospel or a prophetic word into our culture. Others though are forming a new way …
… none speaking for them more importantly than Jonathan Merritt, in his new book A Faith of Our Own. Look hard at that subtitle: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars. My generation blew it; I look forward to what the next generation can do with constructing a kind of evangelicalism that is beyond the culture wars. He’s got endorsements across the board, perhaps a sign of a new kind of coalition — a non-partisan evangelical engagement with culture: Cal Thomas, Gabe Lyons, Ed Stetzer, Steve Monsma, Ron Sider, Sam Rodriguez, Barry Hankins, Jon Acuff, Phleena Huertz, Joel Hunter and Soong-Chan Rah.
When Jesus was offered the kingdoms of the world, Jesus said “No thanks.” So observes Jonathan. He had a better way, a different way, and the challenge today is which of those two options we will choose.
Many on the Christian left speak as if the kingdom of God entails implementing a ‘social justice’ agenda in Washington, getting our troops off the battlefield, and obliterating the reign of the Christian right.
For those on the right, the kingdom amounts to voting Christians into office, making abortion and gay marriage illegal, reinstating prayer in public schools, and posting the Ten Commandments in courthouses.
When either of these agendas becomes the ultimate measure of faithfulness, the kingdom of God is supplanted by our political strategies (17-18, italics mine).
Jon doesn’t hold back: Yes, evangelicals are sitting in the lap of the GOP; but the Protestant liberal movement is even more in the lap of the Democrats. Take your political stance, that’s fine… just don’t make it the Christian way of being.
The church has too easily become nothing more than a voting bloc, like a teacher’s union or senior citizens. Christians have been used and are defacing God in the process.
The last election has issued a warning to the evangelical world. Things are changing.
Join us for more posts from Jon’s new book.