Outside the Evangelical Camp
Written by Dan Armistead
In the opening pages of my book, Prophets or Patriots: How Evangelicals Are Giving to Caesar What Belongs to God, I make this statement –
“I’m writing this book with the clear understanding that it will cost me in some very real and personal ways.” (p.17)
And I want to be honest about something. After writing the book, I planned to return to what I enjoy most about my ministry — teaching the Bible and steering clear of politics.
I’m currently working on several books, including:
Where is the God of Elijah? Overcoming Spiritual Drought in Our Lives and Churches,
Signs of Life: Studies in the Gospel of John, and
The Scandalous Life of Jesus Christ: The Unrecognized Savior.
But as I follow the unfolding response of evangelicals to President Donald Trump’s defeat in our recent elections, I find myself deeply distressed over the state of Christianity in the United States.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, entitled, “The Evangelical Reckoning Begins,” Pastor Andy Stanley, son of Dr. Charles Stanley, co-founder of The Moral Majority in 1979, stated he believes that within a couple of years, Trumpism among evangelicals will be a thing of the past. It will simply go away.
I have great respect for Andy Stanley. We need more evangelical pastors like him. I hope he’s right, but I’m afraid he’s not.
Trumpism is, more than anything else, the rise of a dangerous Christian nationalism that mixes the leaven of politics with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
Just this morning, I read an article by Katherine Stewart of The New York Times, entitled, “Trump or No Trump, Religious Authoritarianism Is Here to Stay.” Having rejected the evangelical mentality described in her article many years ago, I understand it, and what she wrote resonates strongly with my spirit.
Let me pause here to make something clear — I am an evangelical. I am a biblical conservative. I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, but I cannot and I will not support the rise of Christian nationalism.
This makes me an anomaly among American evangelicals, but, as I point out in Prophets or Patriots, the biblical prophets were the minority in their day. And they suffered greatly for their willingness to speak the truth.
I feel like Jeremiah, who at one point in his ministry said, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.’” (Jeremiah 20:9, NIV)
I’ve been witnessing the decline of Christianity in my country for years. My people (evangelical Christians) blame this decline on an increasingly godless society. But the truth is the Roman Empire, through which the gospel spread like wildfire, wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue.
When are we going to start acknowledging the truth of scripture which tells us that judgment begins with the household of God? (I Peter 4:17)
I believe God is calling evangelical Christians to do exactly what the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews told those early Jewish Christians to do –
“Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:13, NIV)
Those early Jewish Christians sought to worship their Messiah with their fellow Jews. They wanted to do this in the synagogues, surrounded by the sights and sounds of worship and community they had known all their lives.
But the time came when they had to choose faithfulness to their Lord over loyalty to their people. Many struggled with this decision knowing the high cost of rejection, persecution, and the grief and loneliness it would bring. This is what gave rise to the letter of Hebrews, as the author pleaded with his people to make the break.
It wasn’t an easy decision for me to choose the path I have chosen. And I really would like to just get back to teaching the Bible and steering clear of these lightning rod issues.
But as I wrote in my Medium article, “The Cost of Authenticity,” there are some things that need to be said, and I don’t want to come to the end of my life regretting not saying them.
I haven’t enjoyed the rejection. Being referred to as self-righteous, blind, lost, a heretic, blasphemer, none of these things make me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.
But Jesus said, and I refer to this in my book, as I call for others who recognize the times we are in to take a stand, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12, NIV)
One more thing. If you are an evangelical, it may be possible for you to remain in your local church. Perhaps you can be the good leaven in the lump, or maybe you are fortunate not to be surrounded by Christians who equate their faith with their politics.
I don’t have a clear answer for the way forward except to say that it begins at the grassroots. It starts with evangelicals who reject the spirit of nationalism and choose the narrow road that leads to life and peace.
Prophets or Patriots: How Evangelicals Are Giving to Caesar What Belongs to God is available on amazon.com. Also, I invite to join me for my “Daily Edge” videos as we talk about what it means to be the “Church on the Edge,” at danarmistead.com.
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