It is Time for a New Type of Evangelicalism

It is Time for a New Type of Evangelicalism January 18, 2018

There has been a lot of talk lately about what evangelicalism means in our current culture. This talk has developed in light of the overwhelming support of white evangelicals for President Trump. It is not only that they support the President, but in order to do so, these evangelicals have abandoned their previous desire for moral leaders. This linking of evangelicals to Trump has led many, including myself, to ask the question of what it means to be an evangelical.

Since I have been a Christian, I have called myself an evangelical. It was the best way I can describe my faith and beliefs. I knew I did not fit in with the rigidness of fundamentalism nor was I comfortable with the license of progressive Christianity. I did not agree with everything I heard from my evangelical friends (I do not agree on everything with anyone), but it was the best spiritual home for me.

Until recently I have been very comfortable in that home. I knew that I was in disagreement with many of my evangelical friends on several political matters, but those disagreements did not seem important enough for me to leave evangelicalism. I have always had concerns about the overly politicized style of many evangelicals, but at least I respected their demands for morality. This latest allegiance to Trump has undermined that respect. Too often the religious beliefs I associate myself with, is tied to a man and politician I hold in low regard. If evangelicalism is going to tie me to President Trump, then I can no longer be an evangelical.

But we do not have to let evangelicalism be tied to Trump. We do not have to let it be tied to highly toxic elements of political conservatism. People often relegate evangelicalism to whites, but actually blacks and Latinos have become more likely to believe the theological framework of evangelicalism. Many of the young evangelicals are redefining their understanding of evangelicalism. Recently I wrote about the war occurring between conservative Christians. Perhaps a consequence of the war is that when his presidency collapses, many of the elements that have lead conservative Christians to this politicized path will be discredited. That may give those of us who are critics of Trump and this type of political hyper-conservatism an opportunity to help reconstruct a new meaning to evangelicalism.

Let me be honest. Right now those of us who opposed the excesses of Trump supporters are on the outs with conservative Christians. Those of us who thought that Trump’s presidential run would go down in flames are not seen as reliable leaders within our religious communities. But in time this will change. I was wrong in my prediction that Trump would not be elected. But, I do not think I will be wrong in predicting that Trump’s presidency will drag down society’s perception of conservative Christians (and indeed it already has), and many Christians supporting Trump now will abandon him. At that point those of us who have conceptualized a new type of evangelicalism, and have been Trump’s critics, can be in a position to redirect our faith.

It is important to consider what that new evangelicalism may look like. At this time we can only speculate and debate what we want for this new type of evangelicalism. There are important questions with which we have to deal. What role will political activism have in this new evangelicalism? Are we going to maintain a sense of traditional morality in a world that not only rejects that traditionalism but stigmatizes it? How will we deal with the growing Christianophobia? Can we establish an evangelicalism that is more multiracial? What is the role of economic justice and economic viability in the new evangelicalism?

Those questions are a beginning, and I hope that many of us will begin to think through these issues. Obviously, a single blog is not going to be sufficient to fully construct what this type of new evangelicalism looks like. So let me add to the conversation by advocating what I think should be an important part of the reconstruction of evangelicalism. That part is the notion of community, a commodity that has become less appreciated in modern society. It certainly has been downplayed by many of the highly politicized evangelicals of today.

Throughout most of human history, we have relied on our communities to find support and comfort. Being in community means more than merely having friends and people we can rely upon. Our communities allow us to understand our place in the society and help us to define ourselves. Even today, in non-Western societies the value of communities is still maintained. It is only in modern Western societies today that we have moved away from the community and towards the individual as the source of value and contentment. Rather than community we have focused on individual fulfillment and empowerment. Modern society has emphasized individual choice above community ideals. We are expected to select our source of meaning and purpose rather than using our communities to help us find those elements. In fact in modern society we look down upon those who would expect denial of personal satisfaction to support their ethnic, social or religious groups.

This type of emphasis of the personal over the community seems to be fulfilling. It is exciting to think that we can consider our own wants and needs above others. But it is also quite scary to think that our own happiness is almost solely our responsibility. Often, we are not able to address some of our natural desires for meaning when we rely on just our individual efforts. Our communities can provide resources to give us a sense of purpose that is hard to find when we rely on our individual desires for purpose and meaning. This is a critique of secular modernity that Christians have neglected.

If we can rebuild our evangelical communities, then we will be in a position to become attractive to many individuals who today do not value our faith. Having communities that provide atomized individuals with a way to find meaning and purpose will become a valuable evangelical tool in a modern society where individuals struggle to find that meaning and purpose. Those of us evangelicals who have been a critic of Trump would do well to go beyond merely cataloging his personal and political failings. We should also cast a new vision of what a Christian community will look like in a post-Christian world. It can be a vision for those who have felt marginalized and in their marginalization have looked to President Trump to sustain them. But it can also be a vision that serves those who have rejected the conservatism of Trump, and may disagree with us on certain moral and social issues, but still are looking for a community they can plug into. In our Christian community we can bring former ideological enemies together to serve a greater good.

If our Christian faith is to have meaning, then we cannot merely replicate the values and norms of our larger culture. A faith that links itself to the transcendent cannot create individuals who act like everyone else. As such while the rest of society focuses on individual fulfillment, we should reignite the notion of community. While others look to themselves before others, we as Christians should look to give ourselves to a larger community. We should look to support each other and learn to sacrifice for our larger community.

Our community is also important for us to maintain our values in a post-Christian society. In a society where conservative Christians face rejection from cultural elites, it is vital to have social mechanisms that allow us to promulgate our religious values. We have to be able to create resources for each other not easily obtained in a post-Christian world. So a vision of Christian community is not only important for helping us provide an alternative to the politicized evangelicalism of today, but also to enable us to protect ourselves in a society that has become, and will continue to be, hostile to conservative Christians.

In time I will discuss more about my vision of a revitalized Christian community. Indeed I have already written about the value of intellectualism in such a community. I have many ideas about the sort of details of I see for the new Christian community. Those details are important as the answers to many of the questions I earlier postulated about what the new evangelicalism will look like. Those details should emerge in our conversations with each other. But at this point I merely want to emphasize the importance of community and the need for those of us who want to reconstruct a new evangelicalism to think about the sort of new community we want to create.

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16 responses to “It is Time for a New Type of Evangelicalism”

  1. Should not our “source of meaning and purpose” be in Christ? In the Triune God? God never changes and is always faithful; a community people–even Christian people–is not.

    I think many of the Christians who support Trump will not abandon him unless he abandons them first. After all the offensive and outrageous things he has done, what more could he do that would cause them to leave him?

    There is no need to wait to reform and redirect American evangelicalism. It should be done today.

    Because the author promotes a “vision of a revitalized Christian community” “in a post-Christian world”, I wonder if he is familiar with the notion of Christian community called the “Benedict Option”. It was originally promoted by Rod Dreher in an article he wrote entitled “The Benedict Option”, which was published by *The American Conservative* in December 2013 (at present this article is still accessible online). It has been a topic of conversation among Christians in America and abroad in the last few years–especially last year, when Dreher had a book published entitled *The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation*. Although Dreher is Orthodox, his book has been well regarded by Catholics and evangelical Protestants.

    Also: Two of the hyperlinks in the first paragraph of this article should be switched–the ones linked to the word “support” and “abandoned”.

  2. I propose a designation of alt-evangelical, even an alt-evangelical resistance. As i have become increasingly uncomfortable with the post-modern associations that have developed, which include but are not limited to the election of ‘the Donald’ to his current office.

  3. The reason that there is a difference in the evangelical communities of principally white congregations and principally people of color congregations is what you are noticing. One group was weaned on cultural imperialism and white supremacy (even if it wasn’t explicitly taught). The other group has suffered and paid the price for being the subjugated and “inferior” group. You won’t be able to change that imperialist christianity. Nor will it change.. it will merely evolve into a new roman church.

    The reason that there is such an emphasis on communities in non-western areas is a combination of factors. One is economics. Another is something quite innately cultural. And yet another is the simple thing – those strong evangelical communities are minorities. Minorities in the US or minorities in an eastern culture where Christianity is not the default. I’m sure there are other factors at play.

    The reason that I and others harp on the 80% of evangelical white conservative Christians is this – it shows how deeply the stain and sin of racism is. It shows what a failure Christianity is at creating brothers and sisters in Christ. The most segregated hour will continue to be the most segregated hour.

    BTW – Don’t blame the secular culture for the fragmentation of community. The secular culture merely freed the people who were trapped in stifling religious culture. Plenty of people form communities. Now, instead of religion being the main form of socializing, there are other opportunities. For example, this website. (Please note – the black and minority churches provide something else – opportunities and networking to help their congregants as well as a refuge from a hostile white society that claims to “not see color”.) This fragmentation is the issue. Certain people are not strong enough to search for community. They would rather be passive recipients than active members.

  4. There are two options here. The first is not to try to distance ourselves from fellow believers who support Trump, The other is to put in at least some distance between us. The article above seems to pick the latter option. That is partly due to concern with how unbelievers will perceive the Gospel because of the evangelical support for Trump.

    I prefer the former option. Why? Why should we let anything other than our belief in the Gospel be the definition of evangelicalism? Why not just say to those who would scorn us for the political convictions of our some of brother and sisters in Christ that we evangelicals are not all the same. After all, isn’t that true of every other group. Certainly not all Blacks or Asians are the same. Not all Democrats or Republicans are the same. And for Socialists like me, I am the first to say that not all Socialists are the same.

    Evangelicalism has been defined by the set of religious beliefs we have which come from the Scriptures. Why let it be defined by anything else simply because of the very questionable political convictions of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

  5. I have pretty much abandoned “Evangelical” as a label I would answer to or apply to myself, at least in a domestic context. (I still consider myself to be very much in solidarity with the global Evangelical movement,) I now prefer to describe myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ, or at least as one who aspires to so become. This has the advantage of both being very much Biblical and also of not being so politically charged. I do realize that it is a bit of a mouthful, unfortunately.

  6. Yeah I have heard of the Benedict Option and basically support it. I think this blog is much in keeping with that idea. As far as the links you have to look scroll down a little on the abandon link to see the survey where evangelicals have stopped supporting moral leaders. I wish there was a way I could get the link to take the reader directly to that survey.

  7. Recognizing that all Evangelicals are not alike in their thinking, I tend, however, to “see” my Evangelical friends as a tight community. . . especially in interpretation of the Bible and opinion about current social issues. A community paradigm shift rarely occurs unless a strong individual begins to shift. In the case of Trump, the Evangelical “community” had gained so much power that it heavily influenced the election outcome. No individual leader surfaced who was able to slow the momentum of the community. I am pondering the issue of community/individual balance.

  8. White American Evangelicals are a political organization first and foremost. They are not particularly interested in the message of Jesus if that message runs counter to their political aims. Asking the question, how long will “good” Christian folks stay in support of the president? That is really not the question we should be asking. The true question is, how long will white America’s rightwing political movement care to be called Evangelical? Even when the term no longer contains the message of Jesus.

  9. Responding to jh. I agree with your points fully and emphatically. The modern secular world is quite selfish, aggressive and indivìdualistic in nature. This servers well in an open society. Here hard work and innovation are prized . However this also leads to a focus upon the “self”. Both community and individualism are aspects of a healthy christian life. I also shrink back from any copying of catholic types of seperated communities. We are NOT called to be seperated from society. Except prehaps for a short while . I say this because ,from history we know of the grotesque abberations that the monastic movement in catholicism caused. We are still suffering their effects.

  10. 1. How conveniently, and sometimes purposefully, we forget who the alternative to the Presidential Office was in the general election? Was it not a choice of lesser evils?
    2. Having chosen one evil over the other, why is it not appropriate for the supporters to give full throated criticism to the person they supported when they deserve it? We are NOT stuck supporting bad choices, bad manners, and bad language—we can and must ‘resist’ from within…perhaps more forcefully that we do when our party of choice is our of power. I refer you to Dr. Roger Olson’s most recent post.
    3, All the ‘name changes’ and ‘new evaglicalism’ and ‘resist’ wording is just that—words without meaning. The Gospel is not in our name, but in God’s name and power.
    4. And since when is ‘evangelicalism’ defined as ‘cut and run’? Or in the case of the Benedict Option, ‘hunker down and hope it goes away?” Neither God, nor His gospel message is incumbent upon who is in office. We persuade others to our point of view by engaging…with yet with gentleness and reverence (2 Peter 3: 16).

  11. We should be sold out to any political leader or party.
    However, I do understand the extreme outrage over Trump.
    He is not a great Christian leader for sure. However, Christians were worse in the behavior toward Bush Jr. who was a far worse leader
    than Trump.
    And what about minority Christians selling out to the very
    anti-Christian Obama?

  12. A few thoughts:

    1. African-American Christians brought our Judeo-Christian
    faith to these shores in those wretched Portuguese, Spanish,
    French, English and Dutch slave ships. We recreated the evangelical worship practices and customs of our ancestral homelands. We are not “more likely to believe the theological framework of evangelicalism”–we have been “American evangelicals” since the 1600’s and our churches are expanding and growing.

    2. While many “white evangelicals” rightfully distant themselves from worship of the “Bathroom Tweeter-in-Chief,” it must be remembered that all white evangelical churches do not, and need not, reflect the Euro-American disease of racism.

    3. There are many more practical strategies Euro-American
    churches can employ to combat the xenophobia, racism and
    misogyny displayed not only in the White House, but in the society at large. For example, re-education of church members about the real history of the European expansion into the
    New World, including the genocide/extinction/displacement
    of Native/Indigenous peoples; the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
    and the creation of New World plantation systems; the development of the permanent white underclass, etc. and
    how Christians attempted to eradicate these evils.

    4. Another practical strategy is partnering with churches “not in
    my ethnic group” to achieve ministry goals. The cross-pollination and fellowship that can develop can bring about constructive
    engagement and unity among evangelicals within various communities. Once Christians get a taste of this kind of kingdom
    work, they begin to reflect the beauty of John’s vision of multitudes
    from “every kindred, nation, tribe and language.” They lose the
    “fear of the other” and no longer feel obligated to prop up or
    excuse extremists or “demi-gods” of xenophobia and racism.

  13. Interesting discussion posted. Who other than Jesus has the power and wisdom to post such individual criticism of our president and “community” as Christians? Are we not called to honor our leaders whether our perfect choice or not? Did God perhaps put Pence in the position he is in as His hand and feet? Is abortion being supported? Are the poor being afflicted? Our society is corrupt but as it is said, “nothing is new under the sun”! Ecclesiastes.
    There is way too much emphasis on “community” and the idea of
    “creating resources for each other”, says the author, than the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Are you a better thought processor than He? If you resource the Bible in your thinking, there are many resources and offerings in how to live “in community” and for Him, not yourself.
    Where did the concept come about protecting ourselves from society?? Really? Where do you live? I live in society as a professional and find persecution a daily thing. Am I shut down, dismayed? Perhaps but then I remember who I am in Christ!
    Who are you? How do you identify as a Christian if not in Christ? This is a skewed conversation. Look to true wisdom found only in Christ. Not man. Not the president (by whom we should give respect that is due to the office).
    Wow. Sad message you are putting out there. It’s not about individuals, community or other rhetoric you are suggesting but about Jesus Christ and Him alone.

  14. ALL:
    I am puzzled as to which theological construction that the NeverTrumper Christians are using. There is a strong lack of continuity in theological interpretations from the “NeverTrumper Christians. The only theology that stands up in any kind of rigorous continuity is the Christian who is BOTH a) progressive AND b) a post-millennialist view which proposes that Christians must progressively redeem society ON EARTH as God’s Kingdom to initiate His Return. Many use the literal sense of Heb 10:12-13 for this “great political commission”.

    If you are not of that theological construct, then which theology are you arguing from to propose condemnation on Trump voters that does not contradict itself?

    The ones who argue over righteous candidates are self-righteous hypocrites. I challenge anyone to name a righteous American politician – go ahead – you can go all the way back to 1776. I can offhand think of ONLY TWO that can place even just a slight weight on the “blameless” scale just using the gold standard of integrity – they were both Democrats (Grover Cleveland and Harry Truman) – and they were hardly righteous.

    From the secular grid, the racist, misogynist and LGBT argument does not work because there are blacks, Hispanics and women, lesbians, gays and transsexuals who DID vote for and still support Trump.

    So please, name the iron-clad theological construct you are using for: 1) proposing a divide of the Body of Christ by 2) blaming others for c)”choosing a leader” of c) a secular nation?

    Historical Fact: America is NOT a Christian Nation – but a Nation that was founded by Christians.

    Historical Note: There was NOT a unanimous evangelical OR Christian vote for Trump in this election and a very large portion of republicans did not vote for Trump – check the PEW data…it was a crossover vote by blue collar Democrats in blue states that gave Trump the electoral victory. It should also be noted that Christians were also extremely divided in the Carter vs Ford presidential vote in 1976.

    Looking forward to your constructs.

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