Why is a popular Christian author “breaking up” with Evangelicalism?
KEVIN HARRIS: Brian McLaren is a very popular Christian author with Christian bookstores across the country. But he says that he has broken up with the conservative evangelical project. He no longer considers himself a conservative evangelical Christian, but more along the lines of a progressive Christian. The Religious News Service – the RNS – as this article by Brian. He has written many best-selling books. One thing about this, as we look at the reasons that he says he no longer associates with conservative or evangelical Christianity, perhaps this is an indicator of how Christians are perceived today – how evangelicals are perceived.
DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG:Before we look at his reasons, let’s clarify exactly what he is talking about. When I first saw this article I was concerned that he was saying he had ceased to be an evangelical. An evangelical is theologically defined. An evangelical is someone who is committed to historic Christian orthodoxy, the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, the need for personal conversion and faith in Christ, salvation by grace. These are the earmarks of evangelical Christianity. It would indeed be a matter of deep concern if he has decided to walk away from evangelical Christianity. But that is not what he means by “the conservative evangelical project.” As he says early in the article, he became disenchanted “with the political project to which evangelicalism was giving its soul.” Near the end of the article he says, “Any one or two of these reasons would have been sufficient to lead me away from voting conservative. All of them together make me a consistent and passionate progressive voter in this election, win or lose.” He is not talking theology here. He is talking about politics. What he is describing for us in this article is why he is not politically conservative, but he is politically progressive. I think what is unfortunate about that is that he thereby identifies evangelical Christianity with a political movement or persuasion. That is wrong. Evangelical Christianity is a theology, and among evangelicals there are those who are conservatives, others who are moderate, others who are progressives. In ceasing to be a political conservative, he shouldn’t pin the blame on evangelicalism or describe it as walking away from evangelicalism. I think that is falling into the trap of those who see evangelical Christianity as a kind of political movement. That is very wrong, and something we need to repudiate very forcefully. Evangelical Christianity is not a political movement.
KEVIN HARRIS: Has it become necessary to use the term or the label “evangelical” because growing up we would just say, “I’m a Christian.” At Antioch in the New Testament, they were Christians. If you were sitting next to someone at the airport and the conversation got around to it and they asked, “What is your religious persuasion?” would you say, “I’m an evangelical?”
DR. CRAIG:Oh, no. I think that they wouldn’t understand you. The word “evangelical” originated during, I think, the late 1940s or so when people like Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, and others wanted to distinguish themselves from the old-line fundamentalism of people like Carl McIntire, for example. They wanted to disassociate their Christian belief from the anti-intellectualism and cultural isolationism of fundamentalism. But in terms of theological doctrine, evangelicals have been committed to the same theological fundamentals as fundamentalism. What is odd about this is (according to what I’ve read at least) in the popular perception of our culture the word “evangelical” has now become just as hated a term as “fundamentalism” was and may even be perhaps more so! So in the long run changing terminology doesn’t really work.These terms get degraded after several decades of use and you find yourself branded with the same sort of bigotry and regressive thinking that you wanted to disassociate yourself from.
KEVIN HARRIS: I still see the trend and Christians referring to themselves as “followers of Christ” or “followers of Jesus.” Facebook profiles. More and more.
DR. CRAIG:Yeah. I think that’s good.
KEVIN HARRIS: It is to try to circumvent the baggage; at least it focuses on Jesus. It says I am a follower of Jesus.
DR. CRAIG:Or you can say I am an orthodox Christian. That might lead some to think you are a member of Eastern Orthodox like Greek or Russian Orthodox Church, but I doubt it for most people. It is better to simply say, “I am a follower of Christ” or “I am a Christian.”
KEVIN HARRIS: Reason number one why Brian McLaren is no longer part of that project:
- I want to associate with people who are respectful and treat others, even their opponents, with basic human decency and civility.
DR. CRAIG:Is that to suggest that all conservatives are disrespectful and uncivil? Certainly some might be. But I think that would be painting with a very broad brush to say that all political conservatives are disrespectful and don’t treat others well.
KEVIN HARRIS: What is behind this? What is this code for? Being tolerant? Nice?
DR. CRAIG:I wouldn’t want to say that. I think our civil discourse in this country has become very uncharitable. I fully want to agree with him that we need to treat other people with respect and civility. This is why in my debates with atheists and agnostics I always try to treat them with charity and civility and not engage in name-calling or insults or even just interruptions. I think that is uncivil discourse. I just don’t see any reason to think that this is inherent to political conservatism to be disrespectful and uncivil. There are plenty of people on the left who are disrespectful and uncivil, too!
KEVIN HARRIS: Isn’t that the truth! Maybe I am being a little facetious or feel a little facetious in that obviously we ought to do this.
DR. CRAIG:Yeah, obviously!
KEVIN HARRIS: But he sees too many in that project who are not.
- I can’t support regressive thinking that longs for a time when life was worse for nearly everybody except people like me.
The good ol’ days.
DR. CRAIG:I think he makes a good point with respect to the problems of racial equality. When you look back on the 40s and the 50s and you remember the sort of segregation that existed in the American South or the Negro leagues in sports. It is like a different world compared to today. So there has definitely been progress made in racial equality in this country. But then in many other respects I think our culture has degenerated. The very point that he was making in point number one – our discourse has become so uncivil, our culture has become much more crude and profane. Think of the way in movies – the “f” word and other sorts of profanity and blasphemy is common. Think of in the movie industry – how back in the 1950s, if there was a murder on-screen, they would just show the shadows on the wall and the one man holding the gun and the other man saying, “No! Don’t shoot!” and then you’d hear the sound and the one shadow would fall. Now, with special effects, you can show the person being riddled with machine gun bullets and doing this macabre dance of death while we have this kind of voyeuristic fascination with violence. The same with sexual promiscuity and so forth. In many ways I think our culture has declined. That is just an undeniable fact about American culture.
KEVIN HARRIS: It kind of puts a wrench in the works when I see these things written on Facebook and Twitter, Back in the good ol’ days we did this, and lists all these things back in the 50s. It is very nostalgic. It makes you want to go back there. But then people are quick to point out – especially more liberal people – Oh, yeah? You are talking about a time of profound racism. You really want us to go back there? You really want us to go back to Mayberry? So we idealize it. I think that is a good point. It is just that we should have kept those standards and gotten rid of the racism and all that, too.
DR. CRAIG:Yeah, that’s right. In some respects, as I said, our culture has made progress. But in many other respects it has declined and become more profane, more coarse, more uncivil, more promiscuous. Life has been cheapened and devalued through abortion on demand, which did not used to be legal in many states. There has been cultural decline in some respects.
- I won’t be pandered to or manipulated based on religious self-interest or bigotry.
Today’s conservatives support a frightening array of proposals that go against our Constitution’s call for “equal protection”: banning people from entering the country based on religion, mass surveillance of communities based on religion and creating registries of people based on religion.
DR. CRAIG:I think we can agree that the idea that you are going to have a ban on Muslim immigration is utterly unworkable and impractical if for no other reason that one’s religious affiliation is not typically included on one’s passport. But let us make clear that we’ve got to be very cautious on this point because we also face tremendous threats to the free exercise of religion in this country that we’ve talked about on other podcasts where in the name of “equal protection” or “civil liberties” religious conscience and the free exercise of religion guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is being threatened where Christian charities which would not allow abortion to be covered by health care plans are under threat of being forced to do that against their conscience, where churches and religious organizations could be forced to hire people who have lifestyles that are contrary to the values and standards that those religions uphold. This is true not just for Christianity but all across the board for various religions. This notion here about the Constitution’s call for equal protection needs to be balanced against the Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion.
KEVIN HARRIS: An inalienable right.
- I am drawn to policies that support conquering poverty, not perpetuating it.
I think I can just say he is talking about socialism here in a sense.
DR. CRAIG:Ah. You think that is the code word here. Well, yes, in that case, having lived in Europe for thirteen years in socialistic countries, I am not all that impressed with how well that works. I think we all agree that we should fight against poverty rather than perpetuate it. But the question is whether this is most effectively done through taxation and big government programs or through private charities and other means of helping the poor. The record of these big government programs has not been very good. Ever since LBJ declared war on poverty in the 60s we have spent trillions of government dollars in attempting to eradicate poverty. Yet, according to my understanding, the level of Americans in poverty today is virtually unchanged from the 1960s.
KEVIN HARRIS: Isn’t that amazing?
DR. CRAIG:So the war on poverty has been a complete failure, and it has had a devastating effect upon the black family. These programs like aid to families with dependent children often would force the male head of the family to leave in order to get the assistance for the single mother. This has devastated the black family with profound ramifications for the number of young black men who are today not only unemployed but actually in prison and created a culture of poverty and dependency in the black community that is just dreadful. I fear that these big government programs are doing to the black subculture exactly what we did to the Native American subculture, which is tragic.It is to create a class of people who are terribly dependent upon the government and upon government assistance that mires them in poverty and a culture of drug use and violence and hopelessness.
KEVIN HARRIS: That is what perpetuates poverty.
DR. CRAIG:So when he says here in this paragraph, “conservatism keeps people trapped in poverty,” I want to see the evidence for that. I am totally open because, as I say, I think Christians can be progressive or conservative. In Europe, most of our friends were what we would call socialists – Christians! But I don’t see the evidence that socialism is more effective at combating poverty than through these sorts of private means where through tax deductions and other sorts of things you would encourage people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get jobs, work, and make a go of it.
KEVIN HARRIS: I hear you saying that both conservatives and liberals are against poverty and want to get rid of poverty; they just disagree on how it is to be done.
DR. CRAIG:Right. It is a practical question.
- I cannot support the massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich.
DR. CRAIG:I think this is just too overly simplistic. In American society we have an income tax that is incredibly graduated where the vast majority of taxes are paid by the very rich. Half the people don’t pay any income taxes because we have a graduated system of income taxes. This is not a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and the middle classes to the rich. Quite the opposite. The graduated income tax puts the burden mainly upon wealthier individuals to support society. But the fact is that these wealthy individuals are generally very hard-workers and shrewd investors. I suspect that if you took away all of their wealth and gave it to the poor, that in two decades from then, the same wealthy people would have the money again and the other people would be mired in poverty. Because it is a matter of knowing how to manage and handle your money. The rich are just better at it. It is not a matter that the system is stacked. He’s got to recognize, I think here, that there are differential abilities that people have that leads some to prosper and success where others sadly enough just don’t.
KEVIN HARRIS: That really turned a light on for me when I read what you just said from Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. He said, The rich know how money works. They have the motivation. They have the skills. They honed their skills. If you tax them and if you try to take away their money, they will just raise their prices, they will just layoff people, they will pass that down to the middle class and lower class. You cannot successfully do that to them. Let them supply jobs. Let them create industry. Let them create jobs. Hillary Clinton, if she had won, she was going to go after all the rich people. Rich people said, Bring it on. We’ll just funnel it someplace else. It goes nowhere. It is exactly what you said. I just wanted to reiterate that.
DR. CRAIG:It is overly simplistic to talk about supporting this massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. That is, I think, less due to the system and more due to free enterprise.
KEVIN HARRIS: We are talking about government programs, and the state, and things. The New Testament admonishes us to give to others and to take care of one another, and all of these things we can get behind.
KEVIN HARRIS: When you politicize that and to these government programs you got . . .
DR. CRAIG:Americans are so rich, I think many of us ought to be giving thirty percent or more of our income to charity. I mean that very seriously. Whereas in some of these European socialistic countries, because of their need for taxation, they limit charitable deductions. So, for example, when we were in Denmark a couple of years ago, the fellow told us that the limit on your federal income taxes for charitable deductions is three thousand dollars.Can you imagine? What incentive is there to give to charity when your charitable deductions are limited to a paltry sum like three thousand dollars a year? This is the way in which socialism discourages charitable giving and helping of the disadvantaged.
KEVIN HARRIS: We only have time to look at a couple more. This one opens up a real can of worms:
- I have grown so tired of being misinformed and manipulated about abortion.
DR. CRAIG:What he points out is that abortion rates went down under Clinton and under President Obama, which is very wonderful. But one has to be careful here of drawing a sort ofpost hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy which says “after this, therefore because of this.” I think a large reason for the decline in abortion rates is that, in fact, conservatives are winning the culture. Millennials and young people are increasingly against abortion. The more we have discovered about the life of the fetus in-utero (and we have these wonderful images and photographs of developing babies) the harder it is to deny that these are human beings in the early stages of their development and that to kill these babies is homicide. I am thrilled that the rate of abortions is going down.
KEVIN HARRIS: The last fifteen or so years I’ve been thinking, You know what? I think we are winning this abortion war . . . I think culture is changing.
DR. CRAIG:Yeah, it is.
KEVIN HARRIS: Do you realize that if Hillary had won that that might have been reversed just because the thinking of people is so influenced by those in leadership?
DR. CRAIG:Yes. I think you are right. Leadership does influence the thinking of culture at large. I would just hope that more and more people would come to realize that abortion is a form of homicide and that we need to protect the life of these unborn or pre-born babies. In the debate between Clinton and Trump – I believe it was the third debate – where Trump said,I don’t believe in partial birth abortion, Hillary Clinton responded by saying, Why should we give the right to the government rather than to the doctor and the pregnant woman to decide whether or not this baby should live? And my answer to that question is: because abortion is a form of homicide! It is homicide to kill this little infant just prior to its delivery. That is why it deserves the protection of the law, of government – to prevent homicide of the most vulnerable and the weakest persons in society.
(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)