THURSDAYS WITH RAY
Donald Trump, Johnathan Edwards, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis – Evangelicalism in America and American Politics
As a practicing Anglo Catholic in the Episcopal Church USA I have always looked askance at this group of Christians who deem themselves to be “evangelicals” That name conjures up visions of hell fire and brimstone preachers, revival meetings, and biblical literalism not to mention a through prejudice against rational thinking and scientific inquiry of almost any kind.
However, last week as I drove to work listening to my favorite NPR morning news program I was astonished to hear leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, an organization known to be “evangelical”, openly distancing themselves from those “evangelical Christians” who are supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump for president. The Baptist leaders proclaimed that they did not consider any person supporting a man who “owned casinos” “used profanity habitually”, and “who had been married three times” to be a true evangelical or even a true Christian for that matter. I felt a sense of amusement as this seemed to suggest that evangelical Christians had begun a war on themselves. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys I mused. It is so good to see the pot calling the kettle black. I am so wearied of hearing about the “apostasy” of the Episcopal Church in authorizing priests to solemnize marriages between single gender couples that I felt vindicated to know that even certain evangelicals were also apostate in the eyes of their leaders.
Then came that moment when God, having given me just enough rope to hang myself, caught me short. I was having coffee with a new friend, Ray, who is an ordained Baptist minister, who attended a Lutheran seminary and worked in Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist Churches. Ray is now also pursuing a confirmation as an Episcopalian and a member of my Cathedral Parish. Ray’s hero is Johnathan Edwards the famous Congregationalist minister who along with George Whitefield, an Anglican evangelical preacher of immense persuasive power, was instrumental in organizing and promoting the “Great Awakening” in New England during the early 1700’s. The “Great Awakening” consisted of a series of revivals and sermons designed to uplift the populace and set their hearts ablaze with the love of God. Like present day evangelicals the “great awakening” produced a dichotomy in which the “new lights”, the revivalists, looked upon the “old lights” being the already established clergy, with some disdain. George Whitefield even went so far as to publicly publish a directory of Congregationalist clergy who were considered insufficiently regenerate or truly Christian. Jonathan Edwards, while supporting the revivalism, sought to moderate the judge-mentalism of the “New Lights”.
Having given me a stack of books to read with regard to Edwards and his theology Ray and I settle into have coffee each Thursday morning at our favorite coffeehouse aptly named Immaculate Consumption to discuss the details. Ray tells me that he finds the Episcopal Church quite evangelical and that the Dean, and one of his Canons, a dear friend, are in his opinion “evangelicals”. And then he drops the bomb. “Oh and I consider the last two Popes to also be “evangelical” also.” Whoa! What? How is that possible? So I thought perhaps it was time to define some terms and I posed the question: What is it that that you consider an “evangelical” to be, Ray? I find it hard to put Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, not to mention my Dean and his Canon, in the same ecclesiastical bed with the followers of Donald Trump or even the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.
And then he defined what he meant by “evangelical” First of all he says “any definition must include the root of the word which has to do with the “Gospel” or good news about what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ.” He then makes his definition using the letters “ABC”
- Activism – It must involve service & mission & show itself in daily life;
- Biblicism – the person must acknowledge the authority of the Bible in faith and practice;
- Christocentric – focused on the person and work of Jesus;
- Cruciform – the atoning death and resurrection grants and shapes life, and finally
- Conversion – there must be a Spirit made “heart transplant” performed o a formerly “spiritually dead” person that results in a complete change of motivation and desires.
Given that definition I can see how it has broad application to all of those named by Ray including me. Fancy that!
What I did not see in his definition is a call to prejudice, judge-mentalism, the deliberate discrimination against minority groups, or a stress on “wining” and being number one in a materialist sense.
So, as one Anglo Catholic Evangelical I can see how the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention might take umbrage at the use of the term by folks who are practically worshipping someone who stands for ideas directly contrary to evangelical, not to mention Christian, principles. It seems we have the new lights and the old lights at it once again.
As Ray and I progress through our discussions I know I will learn a lot more about this subject and I will dutifully convey what I learned through this blog.
The Reverend Ray Barrow has his own blog called Paideia Ministries which can be found at: http://paideiaministries.weebly.com/
My most recent read concerning Johnathan Edwards is
A Short History of Johnathan Edwards by George M. Marsden, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids Michigan (2008).