Lent 2021, Day 14: White light and the visible present.

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Interesting story by Michael Luo on the state of American Evangelical Christianity from The New Yorker:

It was among the most jarring scenes of the Capitol invasion, on January 6th. As rioters milled about on the Senate floor, a long-haired man in a red ski cap bellowed, from the dais, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name!” A man to his right––the so-called QAnon Shaman, wearing a fur hat and bull horns atop his head, and holding an American flag—raised a megaphone and began to pray. Others in the chamber bowed their heads. “Thank you, heavenly Father, for being the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into the building, to allow us to exercise our rights, to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the Communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow the America, the American way of the United States of America, to go down,” he said. “Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God for filling this chamber with your white light and love, your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and love Christ.”

“White light”, huh? Heh.

… The intermingling of religious faith, conspiratorial thinking, and misguided nationalism on display at the Capitol offered perhaps the most unequivocal evidence yet of the American church’s role in bringing the country to this dangerous moment.

How did the church in America––particularly, its white Protestant evangelical manifestation––end up here? For many skeptics, the explanation seems obvious: faith and reason are antipodes––the former necessarily cancels out the latter, and vice versa. Cultivating the life of the mind, however, has been an important current throughout much of Christianity’s history, a recognition that intellectual pursuits can glorify God…. In the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis and Reinhold Niebuhr enjoyed popular acclaim as Christian public intellectuals. T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden are among the writers whose theologically orthodox Christianity served as a focal point of their art.

Evangelicalism in America, however, has come to be defined by its anti-intellectualism. The style of the most popular and influential pastors tend to correlate with shallowness: charisma trumps expertise; scientific authority is often viewed with suspicion. So it is of little surprise that American evangelicals have become vulnerable to demagoguery and misinformation. … In 1994, Mark Noll, a historian who was then a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, the preëminent evangelical liberal-arts institution, published “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” In the opening sentence of the book’s first chapter, he writes, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Yikes. But… yeah, I agree with that.

The social and intellectual upheaval of the late nineteenth century eventually led to a rupture in Protestantism. Some drifted toward theological liberalism, rejecting historically orthodox beliefs about Jesus’s birth, humanity’s need for salvation, and other supernatural parts of the Bible; others retrenched and formed the fundamentalist movement. Crucially, fundamentalists came to embrace a number of theological innovations that were previously not at all central to Christian orthodoxy, including premillennial dispensationalism––a focus on biblical prophecies as a road map to different epochs in history and, in particular, the coming of the end times––and a simplistic, literal approach to the Bible. The “plain reading” method of interpretation ignored the cultural and historical context in which biblical authors were writing, and encouraged believers to apply a misguided, quasi-scientific approach to Bible verses, treating them as “pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that needed only to be sorted and then fit together,” as Noll writes. Biblical inerrancy, which Noll points out had never before occupied such a central place in any Christian movement, became foundational. Fundamentalists also believed that they needed to separate themselves from an increasingly secular society. All of this had a dampening effect on Christian thinking about the world: there was little need to pay attention to history, global affairs, and science, because the present epoch would soon pass, ushering in Jesus’s return; saving souls was all that mattered. “Evangelicals pushed analysis away from the visible present to the invisible future,” Noll writes. “Under these influences, evangelicals almost totally replaced respect for creation with a contemplation of redemption.”

While I am definitely one for redemption, obs, I can see Noll’s point. It’s strange to want to redeem a country without fully trying to understand the many other others who also dwell within it but aren’t part of the in-group. I also have never understood why so many Evangelicals seem to care so little for the natural environment. I know some say that God is going to make a new heaven and new Earth, but…. um, we’re still here now. Read the whole the article in its entirety here.

  • Pray for the Christians who went to the January 6th Insurrection. Really. I just did.
  • Pray for the people who were turned away from Christianity by the stumbling block that was the Christians who went to the January 6th Insurrection. Really. I just did.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Joseph Flemmingreply
March 5, 2021 at 7:48 am

Thanks for posting this, going to have to read the whole thing!

Lent 2021, Day 15: Gone Vision’. – East of Edenreply
March 5, 2021 at 7:25 pm

[…] Yesterday’s post on White Evangelical Christianity garnered some good comments on my Insta. One of the points made in The New Yorker article I excerpted was on the COVID anti-vax beliefs amongst some adherents. Well, here’s more on that. […]

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