PGPP from an Evangelical

There’s a Pretty Good Political Peptalk for Christian political crash-and-burn victims like me at from an unexpected quarter: Marvin Olasky.

I used to see Olasky, Cal Thomas and perhaps a few others, as fellow-Christians whose opinion I frequently shared. I was disenthralled by Olasky’s affiliation with World magazine — an effort at a “Christian” (i.e., Evangelical) newsmagazine, rife with cartoonish right-wing depictions of life unworthy of what I had taken to be Olasky’s considerable intelligence. But that aside, today’s peptalk makes, I think, ecumenical Christian good sense:

Our starting point in evaluating “progress” should be God’s declaration in Genesis 3 following Adam’s sin. God tells the perpetrator, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”
Those words may be familiar, but stare at them for a time: “cursed . . . pain . . . thorns and thistles.” Why do people spend five years creating a book, a movie, a new product, a ministry, a school—and the result is underwhelming? Like even great major league hitters, we usually make an out. That’s Adam’s curse.
Given the curse, a tie in politics — contra football wisdom — is not like kissing your sister. Given everything that can and does go wrong, fending off a loss is not bad. And that leads to a call not for cynicism, disengagement, or “being silent for a season,” but for political realism.

Okay, okay! I’ll vote already! I may even contribute some money, very selectively.

Here endeth my endorsement and begineth an overdue clarification and appreciation.

I subsisted on Evangelicalism for my first 3 decades — nearly 5 decades if you allow Calvinism as a member of the Evangelical camp (as I somewhat uneasily did).

I subsisted. I remained spiritually alive. That’s better than nothing, and I don’t think I’d have survived without Evangelicalism since, in typical Evangelical insularity, I trusted no other Christian tradition.

But I can’t join, for instance, Tom Howard (Evangelical turned Roman Catholic) in praising the riches of my Evangelical past. That’s not how I perceived the unequivocally Evangelical part of my life from my late-twenties forward.

But at the time I was in it, I wasn’t even aware that it was spiritual junk food:

  • processed (all but 2 Sacraments removed, with the 2 dumbed down almost beyond recognition),
  • full of artificial and unhealthy ingredients (manipulative emotionalism and anti-intellectualism), and
  • even some carcinogens (dispensationalism of the “Late Great Planet Earth/Left Behind” variety).

I joked at Evangelical insularity even then, such as Jerry Falwell saying he was going to start a football program at Liberty University because “it’s time for a Christian University to develop a first-class football program” (South Bend take note!).

And I rejected dispensationalism in my late 20s, which made me a bit of an outlier, at least as judged by the loudest Evangelical voices. I even rejected it for one of the right reasons: it’s a novelty, cultured in the seething early 19th century Anglophone petri dish of heresies and cults. (I need to defend my parents on this point: they did not feed me dispensationalism, but unwittingly entrusted me to people who did.)

I’m even inclined to argue that Evanglicalism is not Protestant in the same sense that the Reformers were Protestant. It’s more like a Second Great Awakening and Frontier Revivalist schism from Protestantism more generally. That makes it a schism from a schism from a schism (Catholic/Orthodox 1st millennium Church —-> Roman Catholicism —-> Protestantism —-> Evangelicalism). But maybe I’m hair-splitting, or just saying that for shock value, since Protestantism has been inherently schismatic from the very beginning (Luther was at war with the Anabaptists he emboldened in very short order).

Little did I know where a consistent rejection of religious novelties and schisms would take me 2 decades after I rejected dispensationalism. The reasons for that later move are complicated, and I’ve tried for 13 years now to figure out how succinctly to communicate it, especially to Evangelicals for whom a proposition is suspect if it can’t be reduced to a sound bite. I’ve never done better than “the fullness of the Christian faith,” which is not even my own coinage.

A part of me remains (recovering) Evangelical today. My oldest friends — from childhood or the Evangelical boarding school I entered at age 14 — are mostly Evangelicals (or lapsed Christians from Evangelical burnout). They’re “family,” and family can be critical of each other for healthy reasons as well as from toxicity. I like to think that my slaps at Evangelicals are therapeutic — applying some spiritual Skin Bracer — and that I’ll someday, after the shock wears off, hear “Thanks! I needed that!”

A guy can dream, can’t he?