Restoring Evangelicalism

david at david at
Fri Aug 5 09:57:54 EDT 2011

Restoring Evangelicalism


By David W. Virtue 
August 2, 2011

 In his death John R.W. Stott may have done as much as he ever did in life. 

Thank you Nicholas Kristof and David Brooks.

Writing for The New York Times, Op-Ed columnist Kristof may have restored evangelicalism in America where it has reached an all time low - co-opted by self-righteous Fundamentalists and other assorted proclaimers of a liberal social justice gospel devoid of transcendence, a distorted and fictional health and wealth, self esteem gospel that has alienated millions of Americans from ever hearing the Good News.

When you ally the gospel to the extremes of either the right or the left, you do the gospel a frightening injustice.

Kristof writes that in these polarized times few words conjure as much distaste in liberal circles as "evangelical Christian." Sadly he is right.

That's partly because over the last 25 years evangelicals have come to be associated with blowhard scolds. When the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson discussed on television whether the 9/11 attacks were God's punishment on feminists, gays and secularists, God should have sued them for defamation, writes Kristof.

"Earlier, Mr. Falwell opined that AIDS was 'God's judgment on promiscuity.' That kind of religious smugness allowed the AIDS virus to spread and constituted a greater immorality than anything that occurred in gay bathhouses.

"Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral."

Those self-appointed evangelical leaders come across as hypocrites, monetizing Jesus rather than emulating him. Some seem homophobic. Many who claim to be "pro-life" seem little concerned with human life post-uterus. Those are the preachers who have won headlines and disdain, writes Kristof.

I can speak from personal experience. Some years ago, I wrote an article trying to delineate what it is evangelicals believe as opposed to what fundamentalists declare and got a withering phone call from Falwell telling me that I was "finished". I would never again speak in any of his 30,000 churches in America. He ended his blast by calling down judgment from heaven. It would not be unfair to say that the rest of that day was a lost cause. Over the years, the blasts have often come more from the right than the left. The Rev. Ted Schroder, a devotional writer and former associate of John Stott's when he was a curate at All Souls, London, told me that if you want to know who your real enemies are look over your right shoulder.

Moreover, when presidents declare war in the name of God, liberals grow even more skeptical of the Jesus we say we proclaim and who called for "peace on earth and to men of goodwill." There are "just wars" for sure and World War II certainly qualified, but have recent and ongoing wars been truly "just"?

Neither Kristof nor David Brooks, also of the "New York Times" are Christians, but they get it.

Writes Kristof, "Yet that casual dismissal  is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice."

There you have it. Liberals like Episcopal Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and her go along to get along HOB have claimed the high moral ground by promoting a secular "gospel" vision with Millennium Development Goals. They get as much media attention as liberal do gooders get as a class, especially when it comes to the whine of homosexuals about the need for more money to fight the AIDS pandemic - a pandemic that could be controlled by their behavior.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, pour tens of millions of dollars into such organizations as World Vision Int., Feed the Poor, Food for the Hungry, World Emergency Relief, International Justice Mission, Five Talents, and a host of organizations in Haiti and the Sudan that daily go about their business quietly educating, feeding, blessing and yes proclaiming the Good News about Jesus for which they get no media coverage because they lack "inclusion", fail to spread "diversity" and don't fall for the mush god of Interfaith alliances.

This compassionate strain of evangelicalism was powerfully shaped by the Rev. John Stott, Kristof notes, and he is surely right. If evangelicals had ever wanted a pope, Stott would have been it, both Kristof and Brooks noted. Stott would have eschewed such talk. What a far cry Stott is from the whole liberal, fast becoming bankrupt Episcopal and Anglican enterprise that is laced with the strangulating syntax of Archbishop Rowan Williams trying to parse and merge irreconcilable positions and fey Anglo-Catholics beating a path to Rome's door looking for solace and comfort.

"Mr. Stott didn't preach fire and brimstone on a Christian television network. He was a humble scholar whose 50-odd books counseled Christians to emulate the life of Jesus - especially his concern for the poor and oppressed - and confront social ills like racial oppression and environmental pollution," writes Kristof. And never for a moment did Stott forfeit the call of the gospel for people everywhere to repent and believe in the gospel. His was not the either/or of PB Jefferts Schori whose concept of mission has resulted in the ditching of The Great Commission for MDGs and prosperity on earth without thought of heaven.

When he died at the age of 90, he was named one of the globe's 100 most influential people by "Time". In stature he was sometimes described as the equivalent of the pope among the world's evangelicals. Potato heads and blowhards like Falwell and Robertson commandeered the airwaves with their simplistic utterances and pubescent theology; they were lightweights compared to Stott but they have tragically defined evangelicalism.

The truth is this, if the vast sea of American evangelicals, who number the majority in this country, had taken their theology and cue from John Stott, we would not have had the rampant and deadly fundamentalism "God Hates Fags" crowd (which Stott fought against) nor the health and wealth gospel of myriad television evangelists, nor the self esteem movements of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller or the morally bankrupt Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations now falling all over themselves to accommodate a handful of pansexualists.

For many evangelicals, including myself, who wince whenever a televangelist makes the headlines, Stott was an intellectual guru and an inspiration. Kristof writes: "Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, who has worked heroically to combat everything from genocide to climate change, told me: "Against the quackery and anti-intellectualism of our movement, Stott made it possible to say you are 'evangelical' and not be apologetic."

Being dead he yet liveth. John Stott has made it possible for me and my diminishing kind to once again lift our heads. If I should ever find myself cavorting in the intellectual salons of New York City I shall be carrying copies of Kristof and Brooks articles and God help them if they want a debate or fight, I'll give it to them. And yes, I'll bring several hundred copies to the Episcopal Church's General Convention next year in Indianapolis. At least some of them will get to read the truth for once in their might just save their souls.

One might say of Kristof and Brooks that "the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light". (Luke 16:8) Amen to that.


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