New York Times Evangelicals

New York Times Evangelicals

Mark Tooley on February 11, 2022

Spanish dictator Francisco Franco regularly read The New York Times because he amusingly thought it the voice of international Freemasonry, historic nemesis to his preferred rightwing continental Catholicism. The Times has long had totemic status often beyond reality. So there’s no surprise that David Brooks’ recent Times piece on reformers within Evangelicalism got wide response. He spotlighted some Evangelical dissidents whom some conservative Evangelicals disparage as panderers to the zeitgeist as embodied by the Times.

Evangelicals get lots of secular media attention because, in our ostensibly more secular age, they have significant political power as a fairly cohesive voting bloc that often goes 80% Republican. They are almost as cohesive as black Christians, who typically vote 90% Democrat, but white Evangelicals are more numerous.

Coastal elites have disdained Evangelicals and revivalists across 200 years, per John Adams’s correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. They have long seen the backcountry unwashed as reactionary and unsophisticated. Contemporary Evangelical traditionalist views on human sexuality and abortion make them especially disdained by liberal and secular elites.

Recent national polarization naturally has affected Evangelicals as with all demographic groups, especially relating to Trump, January 6, “Christian nationalism,” the pandemic and vaccine, conspiracy theories, race and law enforcement and populist politics. Some Evangelicals, including many leaders within academia and publishing, including persons whom Brooks spotlights, recoiled from the recent Evangelical politics, which they saw as departing from traditional Christian public concerns during the Bush and Reagan eras. As Brooks noted, there is also distress about sexual abuse in the church, with some Evangelicals blaming failures of accountability on excessive deference to authority and sometimes misogyny. According to Brooks:

Power is the core problem here. First, the corruptions of personal power. Evangelicalism is a populist movement. It has no hierarchy or central authority, so you might think it would have avoided the abuses of power that have afflicted the Roman Catholic Church. But the paradox of decentralization is that it has often led to the concentration of power in the hands of highly charismatic men, who can attract enthusiastic followings. A certain percentage of these macho celebrities inflict their power on the vulnerable and especially on young women. 

And also:

Then there is the way partisan politics has swamped what is supposed to be a religious movement. Over the past couple of decades evangelical pastors have found that their 20-minute Sunday sermons could not outshine the hours and hours of Fox News their parishioners were mainlining every week. It wasn’t only that the klieg light of Fox was so bright, but also that the flickering candle of Christian formation was so dim.

In 2020, roughly 40 percent of the people who called themselves evangelical attended church once a year or less, according to research by the political scientist Ryan Burge. It’s just a political label for them. This politicization is one reason people have cited to explain why so many are leaving the faith.

Two important points here. First, non-Evangelicals sometimes assume based on stereotypes that Evangelical churches are hotbeds of political activism. But they very rarely are. Most Evangelical preachers avoid detailed politics from their pulpits. Almost all Evangelical activism originates outside the church. Second, “Evangelical” has become a moniker for political and cultural identity rather than a theological description. Some non-Christians, including Hindus and Muslims, and non-religious people, now tell pollsters they are “Evangelical” because they identify culturally and politically with the movement.

Brooks cites New York pastor and author Tim Keller’s ideas for church renewal, which include renewed emphasis on church planting and campus ministry, better catechesis, shaping intellectual leaders in academia, and creating a “Protestant social teaching,” similar to Catholic public theology, but “Protestant versions might share 75 percent of its ideas, while being perhaps less hierarchical and more individualistic.”

Keller’s citing evangelism is most important. Christianity is demographically declining in America even as it grows globally. Every American church should be evangelistic, which is not only countercultural in society but increasingly countercultural within American Christianity. The word itself is often discomfiting. But winning lost souls is the church’s first goal in every time and place.

Also important is Keller’s citation of catechesis. Evangelicals must, to survive, uphold sound doctrine. Mainline Protestantism’s inexorable decline evinces the bitter and deathly fruits of theological liberalism. The New York Times rarely spotlights Mainline Protestants because they have made themselves societally irrelevant. Lest there be any doubt, recent Evangelical congregations that, with much adoo, abandoned traditional Christian sexual teaching quickly imploded. Cleaving to historic Christian ethics is deeply controversial. But discarding them is disastrous for the church.

To my knowledge, only one of the personalities whom Brooks cites has publicly indicated any move away from traditional Christian sexual teaching. If she follows that journey, she will have left Evangelicalism for liberal Protestantism. A renewed Evangelicalism must stick with universal Christianity on doctrine and ethics while stressing traditional Evangelical strengths of evangelism and pragmatic entrepreneurship. Evangelicalism is growing globally, and it is growing among immigrants in the U.S., by stressing personal dynamic faith in Christ with traditional doctrine.

New York Times and other secular coverage of Evangelicalism, favorable or not, recognizes that Evangelicalism remains a major dynamic force in even a less formally religious America. A robust, strong and healthy Evangelicalism serves the interests of everyone who cares about a robust, strong and healthy American democracy.

  1. Comment by Douglas Ehrhardt on February 11, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    Mostly honest assessment, I’m not at all sure about the so called leaders who would want to be involved with the totally evil New York media. They definitely support the Satanic agenda. Makes me ill.

  2. Comment by David on February 12, 2022 at 8:07 am

    I assume you include Fox News as part of the “evil New York media.” They are headquartered at 1211 Sixth Ave., New York City. I guess they prefer the “coastal elites” to backcountry people.

    In 2011, Colin Woodward published “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.” His argument was that regions today reflect the values of their founding populations even after centuries. New York City was placed in the “New Netherland” that was noted for its cultural diversity and tolerance even in its earliest years. A declaration by the residents of Flushing, Queens, NYC, declared that religious freedom extended to “Jew, Turks, and Egyptians” back in 1657. “Few realize that their [the Dutch] influence is largely the reason New York is New York, the most vibrant and powerful city on the continent and one with a culture and identity unlike that of anyplace else in the United States.”

  3. Comment by Marc on February 12, 2022 at 11:53 am

    Ignore David Brooks. He’s not a conservative or a Republican. He’s a RINO at best; the NY Times’ token Republican.

  4. Comment by Walt Pryor on February 12, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    The decline of Christianity is prophesied in the bible, the great falling away.
    History shows this happened in Europe some time ago.
    Liberalism and Progressivism support the decay of Bible values. In Europe Church pastors are paid by the government. Recently a bill was presented to make all Christians who attend church pay for Pastors’ salaries and benefits, no one else just Christians. This will be a tax on Christians.
    This is the problem with the Liberal government, it always begins with great rhetoric, fine-sounding benefits, where
    everyone gets what they want and no
    one has to pay for it.
    This is what we hear from Democrats today. Spend, spend, spend, and do not worry. This untruth comes from the heart of man, not from God.
    Liberalism comes from Satan. It is Satan’s strategy to undermine and destroy countries and the church. Satan’s plan is to destroy humanity. He is succeeding in America and Europe because Democrat politicians follow their own lust and desire not God’s will.

  5. Comment by Douglas E Ehrhardt on February 12, 2022 at 4:32 pm

    This is a Christian site. I don’t know about Fox News but the Times is a supporter of all that is anti Christian , including porno of all types especially homosexual.

  6. Comment by John Smith on February 16, 2022 at 8:52 am

    “Also important is Keller’s citation of catechesis. Evangelicals must, to survive, uphold sound doctrine. ”

    Orwell would be proud that a word like “Evangelical” is assumed to be a religious designation while in fact is a political description.

    It would be amusing to see Methodist adopt a confession and catechism but it would simply be something else to ignore like the Book of Discipline.

  7. Comment by Daniel on February 17, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    You nailed it in regard to catechesis. To my knowledge, only the Presbyterians and Lutherans, among Protestants, take their catechisms seriously. I grew up in an Episcopal church and there was virtually no catechesis. The same goes for the UMC.

    The men’s group at my LCMS congregation is now studying Luther’s Large Catechism, and the adults are encouraged to study the Lutheran Confessions. Built on a basis of regular Bible study, knowing your denominations confessional documents strengthens your faith and help you understand why you believe what you believe.

  8. Comment by John Smith on February 18, 2022 at 3:10 pm

    Daniel,
    If the churches actually did catechesis based on historical creeds and confessions those in the pews would see how far astray they have been led. Can’t have that.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.