With the obscure and departing editor of Christianity Today calling for the removal of President Trump in a vile and hateful, uneducated and partisan fashion this week, it proved that there are some (thankfully few) left-wing evangelicals for whom political correctness trumps biblical literacy.
I don’t consider myself an exile, but I do consider myself an evangelical, orthodox, Reformed, Protestant, conservative Christian.
A left-wing evangelical camp now appears to run the former flagship magazine of evangelical Christianity, Christianity Today, would say that’s impossible. But there does not appear to be any conservatives remaining at the magazine, which has capitulated to the politically correct crowd and our hyper-liberal CNN culture.
According to their thesis, in this secular, constantly challenging world, “exiles” are what Christians in this 21st century are called to be. They expect us to be literal Jeremiahs, living in Babylon and voting only for progressives.
I take issue with the idea that we should flee from the very civilization that we made—and I include Christians in the “we”—and the civilization that we are called to renew.
The hype of the evangelical Left predicts they will “forever change the way Christians view and talk about their role in the modern world.” This failed editor (whose magazine’s circulation has dropped to 130,000 from a peak of around 200,000) refers to moralistic platitudes but appears to forget or relegate biblical truths.
But faith is not about oneself; it is about the worship of God and His ways. In the new evangelical Left, the Bible is put to the side and the newspaper becomes the gauge of action. Culture comes first and conformity to the progressive worldview is essential because you want to be “relevant.”
Putting aside for a moment the idea that anything published by Christianity Today could sway more than a small fraction of practicing Christians in the world, I have to wonder just what is the agenda here. Why such Trump hate, and why now? There are more than 30 million evangelicals in America and 90 percent of them support the president. Those are overwhelming numbers.
Most of these leftist evangelicals grew up fundamentalist, attended evangelical colleges, became countercultural, and took degrees in subjects like sociology. Patrons of cigar bars everywhere know to fear the zeal of the smoker who quits.
A New, Dangerous View of Culture
Their uber-rant, uniting all lesser ones, is primarily against conservative Christians, and the No. 1 target is not, as you might expect, some professor at Dallas Theological Seminary but the popular President Donald J. Trump. Ironically, he is the person who has supported life, defense, Israel, and religious liberty more than any other.
Tinged with a vogue anti-Americanism, these souls do not believe in the goodness of the city on the hill, the American Founding, or the strict constructionist view of the Constitution. Most of them vote Democrat, not Republican.
Attacking the “worldview mentality” as a form of German Idealism or Hegelianism, these evangelical leftists are knocking down a straw man. They call many of the people they don’t care for, like Trump, “naïve,” “immoral,” or worse, which is less than civil, and one has to wonder why—if they want to pick this fight—they wouldn’t take on the giants of the evangelical and Reformed perspective: that litany of theologians, religious leaders, and scholars in this tradition who decidedly were not liberal.
The evangelical Left’s slanted version of church history is incomplete and highly selective, and they seem to regard the Church fathers as unlettered yahoos. Many of them were in fact Christian Platonists, and some, like Saint Paul, Hellenized Jews.
Of course, these leftists never even raise Saint Thomas’s baptism of Aristotle. In effect, they have an apparent and extreme dislike for real evangelicals—made evident through their tactics but also through their values and customs—and yet they have virtually nothing to say about Catholicism, which is still the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to Christianity. Catholic evangelicals are decidedly not liberal as they have seen the drift of their Church away from its moorings.
This leftist critique is also entirely focused on America, which is myopic, given that Christianity has more adherents in the Third World than in the developed parts of the world today. There are more conservative adherents in Africa than in America and surely more there than in Europe. In fact, missionaries—conservative evangelical ones—are now regularly sent to America and Europe to convert the masses. Perhaps that should include the boardroom of Christianity Today.
But all of this is really a setup for a new view of culture, which is not that new at all, but instead a rehash of Marxists and Bourdieu and the anti-technological views of the French leftist Jacques Ellul. Proudly countercultural, these armchair social theorists, dismiss altogether the contributions to public life of real evangelical Christians. They are trying so hard to be chic.
Repudiating Christian Realism
Left-wing evangelicals have no time for actual politics or economics. As anti-individualists at pains to carp against the “great man” or heroic versions of history, they offer instead a grand sociological narrative focused on social justice. They adore such “warriors.”
They want us to accept a post-political, narrow, negative view of power. Typically, their pacifist view of what the Bible says comes straight from the pages of neo-Anabaptism or the New Left. They are loudly anti-modern, anti-American, and anti-market. American civilization, they say, is “a bundle of contradictions.” And resacralization of it is not possible. Instead, they call for even more redistribution of wealth and the “koinonia” of church-based community, a new form of late modern monasticism akin to woke socialism. They loathe the market and market forces and see no way to redeem capitalism.
This is no Allan Bloom thesis. These leftists in church garb call for a “critique of the entire modern world.” For them pluralism is a dangerous evil (hence the diatribe against the “culture wars”). They think American culture was never Christian—ignoring the faith of the Founders—and believe that most Americans today are nihilistic and post-Christian. The data from recent polling suggests otherwise, so they simply ignore it. The skepticism that characterizes modernity may be bewildering, but they would be well-advised to reread the classics of political thought and especially works on Gnosticism, like Voegelin’s New Science of Politics, if they want to play political theorist.
They reject Trump not only for his policies but for his embrace of power. This “new political theology” leads to cultural, not political, engagement. For evangelical leftists’ politics is unfulfilling and deeply compromised. They do not care for “defenses against” culture, “relevance to” culture, or “purity from” culture. They are certainly not Christian realists like Reinhold Niebuhr. And they have repudiated their own founding leaders like Carl Henry, Harold Okenga, and Billy Graham.
This alternative vision is rather focused on disciplining the church, with a small “c.” The Old Testament term ”shalom,” curiously, is the hallmark of this preferred engagement. And as they admit, biblisistic calls are “simple, even platitudinous.” They borrow the metaphor of “aliens” from other leftists, stressing the tension between history and revelation, describing a “dialectic of affinity and antithesis.”
What’s more, they distance themselves from any sort of triumphalism. They want no City of Man and react against Constantinism. Institutions, though important to culture, should be leaderless and without authority. (Presumably, this means they would also wither away.) The U.S. presidency—especially if Trump is in office—should have no support. But if their preferred option, Barack Obama, were still in office, it would be a different story.
Church as Commune
In essence, leftist evangelicalism’s many ponderous social theories remind me of the leading American philosopher who once said, “Sociology is a bogus intellectual enterprise, hiding ideology behind the claim to be a science.” By reducing the Gospel to social doctrine, an ideology, they give up the faith for a pablum of good conscience and salvation through works.
But then maybe it can, because for all their apparent anti-establishment cultural leftism, leftist evangelicals are quite elitist.
One of their central teachings is that things only count when they happen to the center-periphery crowd—highbrow campuses and at outfits like the New York Times. They are hoping to make it into the mainstream and for that they are quite willing to be rid of the deplorables and flyover country. They sorely want to be taken seriously by the larger leftist establishment. What better way to do this than to join in the cry to impeach Trump?
Bemoaning the lack of civility in America and then starting a name-calling exercise does not exactly elevate this dialogue. These ivory tower evangelical leftists are so dismissive of other views that they come off as blindly arrogant. They are apoplectic about the Right, especially the Christian Right (which they say peaked in 2004, without any supporting data and ignoring the 2016 election results), and yet have little to say about serious Christians except when they put down the entire natural law tradition in a single sentence or in the course of attacking the late, loquacious Father Neuhaus of First Things.
Pointedly, their nemesis is all things Trump and therefore the huge percentage of evangelicals themselves who remain mired in their bibles and sometimes even their guns and isolated culture. This no longer includes the turned Christianity Today which has forsaken its true roots.
In the end, these left-wing evangelicals have offered little that is new or terribly cogent. They are late modern neo-Anabaptists or Barthians (who supported Stalin, I remind you) using the language of sociology to express hang-ups about the exercise of power.
There is no political theory, and no awareness of Christian democracy, which has been making and remaking culture for centuries. The only political Christians who get the kid-glove treatment are those on the evangelical far-far left arrayed around sojourner, Jim Wallis (God’s Politics).
By focusing exclusively on the Church as commune, not an institution, instead of looking at the life and identity of Christians in all their variegated vigor, the evangelical Left fails to comprehend the complete social architecture of the subject, which ranges from committed persons to families to civic associations to schools to the state itself.
An attempt to decouple the political and the public fails because it is both too cute and suffers from a lack of correspondence to reality. The evangelical Left tries, but fails, to be prophetic. In the process, it embarrasses all their brethren. They do not support political leadership, particularly when conservative or Trumpian, and instead fuse culture with the Left’s paragon of progress and “enlightenment.”
In my new book with Felipe J. Cuello, we discuss Trump’s worldview, where freedom and prosperity reign and America stays great.