Donald Trump received a significant endorsement recently from Wayne Grudem, the man who wrote the 1200 page definitive systematic theology textbook of American evangelicalism. Grudem has received a lot of criticism for doing this. What I found most interesting was the way that Grudem’s endorsement perfectly exhibited a double-standard inherent to the structure of evangelical discourse about sin.
Total depravity is the phrase that’s used for the evangelical doctrine of sin. Technically, it means that no aspect of human existence avoids the corruption by original sin. But in its practical, popular application, it has a double meaning, depending on whether one is a believer or a non-believer. On the one hand, evangelicals believe human sin is so profoundly wicked that it deserves eternal torture as punishment. On the other hand, if you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and savior, no sin is grave enough to disqualify you from entering heaven.
When your Christian doctrine is built entirely around heaven and hell as a mechanistic punishment/reward system for sin, you will end up bifurcating humanity into two categories: those who can never do anything right and those who can never mess up badly enough to be disqualified.
If sin has to be wicked enough to deserve eternal torture, that means that non-Christians (or Democrats) are nihilistically evil. Nothing about their views or actions can possibly be right, which is why they must not be negotiated or compromised with under any circumstances. There is no reason to try to understand where they’re coming from. They are simply wrong. They must be utterly opposed and utterly delegitimized (for their own good, of course). That’s why doing anything that might contribute to Hillary Clinton’s presidency is unimaginable to Grudem:
If this election is close (which seems likely), then if someone votes for a write-in candidate instead of voting for Trump, this action will directly help Hillary Clinton, because she will need one less vote to win. Therefore the question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?
On the other hand, no sin is great enough to disqualify a born-again Christian from heaven (or a Republican politician from being elected). Leaders who are inside the Jesus fold must be given the benefit of the doubt and complete grace. As long as their sin is acknowledged, it can be instantaneously put on Jesus’ cross and forgiven. That’s why all that Grudem has to do is acknowledge Trump’s imperfections before endorsing him.
He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.
This is toxic Christianity in its most perfect expression. And it makes complete logical sense based upon the popular evangelical doctrine of sin that Wayne Grudem has been so influential in establishing. As long as we’re locked into a mechanistic account of heaven and hell as the core of our understanding of sin, we will end up bifurcating humanity into saved and damned and judging each category with completely different standards. Before long, we will extend our binary categories analogously to the political sphere as Wayne Grudem has done with Republicans and Democrats.
The infuriating irony is that Christian doctrine is supposed to do the opposite of what it does in this toxic double-standard of thinking. It’s because of Jesus’ atonement for my sin that I gain the freedom to be wrong. When I’ve let go of my infallibility, then I can compromise and negotiate politically with people who have very different priorities. Christians should be the most humble, adaptable, open-minded politicians in our government if we actually believe that we’re sinners redeemed by God’s grace.
The fact that evangelicals have become ministers of government shutdown rather than “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) should reveal to us that something has gone horribly wrong with our theology. The reason I wrote my book is because these toxic weeds need to be pulled out by the roots. Everything changes when I recognize that the hell Jesus saves me from is my self-justification and that heaven is the space of authentic divine communion I enter when I stop trying to prove that I’m right. I’m hoping that this election will finally blow open the toxicity of evangelical doctrine so decisively that millions of people will be liberated. I hope it won’t take electing a fascist for the theological jailbreak to go through.