David Brooks on Bono, Rick Warren, Chuck Colson, Evangelicals, the “Culture War,” and the War on Poverty

David Brooks hits a home run.

Here’s an excerpt:

I recently went to a U2 concert in Philadelphia with a group of evangelicals who have been working with Bono to fight AIDS and poverty in Africa. A few years ago, U2 took a tour of the heartland, stopping off at places like Wheaton College and the megachurch at Willow Creek to urge evangelicals to get involved in Africa. They’ve responded with alacrity, and now Bono, who is a serious if nonsectarian Christian, is at the nexus of a vast alliance between socially conservative evangelicals and socially liberal N.G.O.’s.
Today I’ll be at a panel discussion on a proposed antipoverty bill called the Aspire Act, which is co-sponsored in the Senate by social conservatives like Rick Santorum and social liberals like Jon Corzine.

And when I look at the evangelical community, I see a community in the midst of a transformation – branching out beyond the traditional issues of abortion and gay marriage, and getting more involved in programs to help the needy. I see Rick Warren, who through his new Peace initiative is sending thousands of people to Rwanda and other African nations to fight poverty and disease. I see Chuck Colson deeply involved in Sudan. I see Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals drawing up a service agenda that goes way beyond the normal turf of Christian conservatives.

I see evangelicals who are more and more influenced by Catholic social teaching, with its emphasis on good works. I see the historical rift healing between those who emphasized personal and social morality. Most of all, I see a new sort of evangelical leader emerging.

Millions of evangelicals are embarrassed by the people held up by the news media as their spokesmen. Millions of evangelicals feel less represented by the culture war-centered parachurch organizations, and better represented by congregational pastors, who have a broader range of interests and more passion for mobilizing volunteers to perform service. Millions of evangelicals want leaders who live the faith by serving the poor.

Serious differences over life issues are not going to go away. But more liberals and evangelicals are realizing that you don’t have to convert people; sometimes you can just work with them. The world is suddenly crowded with people like Rick Warren and Bono who are trying to step out of the logic of the culture war so they can accomplish more in the poverty war.

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  • impossibleape

    great post

    the evangelical church may be savable after all

    John Wesley and evangelical reformers of the past musy be must be smiling a little more these days

    let’s keep moving the church out of the bubble and into reality

  • mark


    Thank you. Both interpretations are certainly plausible and either way as evangelicals we certainly need to be concerned with both spiritual and physical needs to be in complete accord with scripture.

  • Martin

    That phrase leaped out at me, too, but you’ve truncated it in a way that makes me suspect you’ve missed Brooks’ point. What he actually said was “More liberals and evangelicals [emphasis mine] are realizing that you don’t have to convert people; sometimes you can just work with them.” So perhaps he’s talking about converting people to a particular point of view rather than to belief in Christ. In other words, Bono and I both profess to be believers, but we don’t have to agree on everything in order to work together.

    On the other hand, Brooks himself is not an evangelical, and he may occasionally misunderstand evangelicals. So he could be talking about spiritual conversion here, in which case he’s failed to realize that a Christian who doesn’t believe in the importance of spiritual conversion is by definition not an evangelical.

  • mark


    Thank you for the excerpt. It made some very good points and should engender some valuable discussion. Along that thinking per haps I did not understand this line correctly, but I think David Brooks is in serious error if I did understand him. “You don’t have to convert people; sometimes you can just work with them.” Conversion must always be the goal. Heaven and Hell are very real places and the only way to the Father is through the Son. Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:6-8 make it plain how we are to spend our time until the return of the Lord. Where evangelical Christianity has missed the point is that they have not taken the whole council of God (Deuteronomy 5:33). To not present the Gospel is to put ourselves in danger of having people’s blood on our hands (Acts 20:26-27). We must, however, do this according to God’s commandments. We must give the Bread of Life that comes from heaven (John 6:32-40), but we must also give the bread that sustains life on earth. When we do both of these we are giving to our Lord (Matthew 10:42). When we don’t do both we can’t really claim to love either God or Man (I John 3:17). When we reach out to the most helpless among us we come the closest to the perfect love to which God has called us (James 1:27).

    Bono and others who are encouraging us to get involved in third world countries are right on. But meeting people’s physical needs without meeting their spiritual needs is the same as giving someone a pain killer while ignoring their disease. It might make them feel better but it is just as fatal. The same can be said for their social diseases as well.