What's Tony Thinking

Inside the Evangelical Mind, Part 2


A week or so ago I drew from the newsletter, The French Press. Its creator, David French is devoting his Sunday blogs to helping secularists understand religionists, in particular evangelical Christians.

His most recent topic was “The Lord Hath Chosen . . . Donald Trump?” French takes up the contention voiced by some evangelicals and some politicians, recently by Rick Perry and Nikki Haley, that Trump is “the Chosen One.”

To both religious liberals, like myself, and secularists this is wild stuff, that sounds dangerous. With another excursion into the evangelical mind, French unpacks this thinking to suggest that it is not quite so cult-like or crazy as it may seem. Moreover, it contains within it a check and balance, which too many evangelicals are now choosing to overlook.

For the evangelicals who speak of Trump as “the Chosen One,” you start with three theological convictions. First, God is sovereign in and over all things. No ruler comes to power without God’s knowledge and permission. (As French points out, Rick Perry thought something that the vast majority of Trump’s other evangelical supporters missed, that Barack Obama was also “the Chosen One.”) Conviction One: God is sovereign in all things.

Conviction Two: God can use flawed, sinful people to accomplish God’s purposes. Many evangelicals justify their support of the President by saying God has chosen other flawed people (e.g. Saul, David, Solomon, Cyrus).

Conviction Three: appointed rulers and governing authorities are to be respected and obeyed. Here, French cites to Romans 13 and Paul’s classic discussion of the relationship of Christians to the powers that be. But there’s a catch. Yes, God is sovereign, and yes governing authorities are to be obeyed, but only so long as they fulfill God’s will and commands. 

Here’s French:

“Virtually any biblically literate Christian can immediately recall the words of Romans 13:1—’Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.’ The next verse is amplifies on the first, ‘Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.’

“Moreover the idea that God selects rulers isn’t confined to a single verse in the New Testament. The Old Testament is replete with examples of the Lord choosing to elevate leaders, including notably both King Saul and King David (the men Perry mentioned in his interview). So, when secular critics react with Perry and Haley as if they just said something cultlike and strange, Christian believers hear a direct attack on scripture. Of course God is sovereign. Of course he elevates rulers to serve his purposes.

“But just as there’s a problem with secular ridicule, there’s also quite often a problem with the reflexive Christian response. While not every Christian is guilty of this hypocrisy, I’ll note that I’ve heard far more Evangelicals recognize God’s sovereignty in the elevation of Donald Trump than I heard recognize his same sovereignty in the elevation of Barack Obama. And I’ve also heard many Evangelicals use God’s sovereignty over the presidency as an endorsement of the president’s agenda or as a defense to secular critique.

“But, as the saying goes, that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. In fact, citing Romans 13, or referencing any Old Testament king only starts to peel the onion of theological complexity.”

More from French:
“If we’re speaking of the call of God on a ruler’s life, the true emphasis is not on deference to the ruler (indeed, resistance to unrighteousness is often an imperative) but on the ruler’s ultimate responsibility before God.
The First Book of Spider-man says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ but that’s not Marvel’s invention, it’s an adaptation of Jesus’s own words: ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’”
And then his concluding remarks:
“Biblically literate members of the media could do a great public service if they pushed leaders like Perry and Haley to amplify their views on God’s sovereignty over princes and presidents. A truly rigorous examination of the issue should lead believers (in and out of government) to humble themselves and pray. As Proverbs states, “[T]he king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water.” We don’t know God’s plans. We can only do our best to discern what is just, and our best is going to be limited by our own fallen nature.

“At the end of the day, both ruler and ordinary citizen alike should remember Micah 6:8—’He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ Citizens who don’t temper their quest for justice with kindness and humility violate God’s command, but so do rulers—and when the people see from the fruits of a man’s life that Micah 6:8 is far from his heart, then it is right and even necessary to raise the alarm.”

In contending that God can work through flawed people/ leaders, evangelicals are certainly correct. But they err in overlooking the accountability expected of such leaders.

I appreciate French’s work here, trying to think theologically about Donald Trump. I’ve pondered that a good bit myself and come to the conclusion that via Trump and the forces he represents God is testing America. Will we pass this test and come through it stronger for it?

But another interpretation, alluded to by French is also compelling. French notes that God was actually against having kings in Israel at all. When God relented, by having Samuel anoint Saul as king, God basically says, “Okay, I’m going to give what you say you want . . . And we’ll see how you like them apples.” This interpretation sees God as saying to Americans, “Okay, you asked for a strong-man, a bigot and a bully. I’m going to give you what you’ve asked for and then we’ll see how that works out for you.” I guess that’s another form of testing.

Of that part I am sure. This is time of testing our individual and national soul.


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