The New York Times calls for evangelicalism to save itself, from itself
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The New York Times is very concerned about saving evangelicalism. Yesterday, the nation’s newspaper of record devoted three entire print pages of its “Review” section to a massive essay by columnist David Brooks titled “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism.” In the online version, the headline added, “From Itself.”
Well, that’s subtle.
The article is a wide-ranging review that portrays certain figures as would-be reformers of evangelical Christianity in America. Each of these individuals is given voice in the essay, and they willingly posed for photographs that accompanied the story. All of them are cited as important voices calling for evangelical Christianity to reform itself or be abandoned. The issues of concern that are listed as a mandate for reform include attitudes about race relations, sex-abuse scandals, and “the white evangelical embrace of Donald Trump.”
Brooks writes of division within evangelicals: “While differing over politics and other secondary matters, they are in theory supposed to be unified by their shared first love—as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Indeed, the authentic church of the Lord Jesus Christ is unified in that shared first love, but a visible unity of the church must be founded upon a sufficient consensus in beliefs and convictions, and that consensus is very different than what Brooks has in mind.
“Partisan politics,” warns Brooks, “has swamped what was supposed to be a religious movement.” He pointedly refers to WORLD Opinions and to me, giving voice to the claim that the very existence of an opinion section is a compromise of journalism. And he wrote this indictment for—wait for it—the opinion section of The New York Times. Clearly, the real offense for David Brooks is not the existence of opinion, but the existence of opinion contrary to his own.
Brooks, who has been an unrelenting partisan for President Joe Biden, accuses evangelicals of being overly partisan. According to Brooks, the proof of evangelical nefariousness is the fact that, according to the essay, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2020. End of story.
Let’s be clear—evangelicals are the heirs of the Protestant Reformation, and we must always be working for the reformation of Christ’s church by the Word of God. Critics of evangelicalism can serve us, even unintentionally, by pointing to sins among us that point to the undeniable need for such reformation. And there are sins for which repentance is due and challenges to be faced. We also have to recognize that politics does present Christians with hard choices and ethical challenges.
But let’s understand what we are looking at in this essay. David Brooks is not an evangelical Christian. The New York Times “Review” section is not a forum for determining a faithful future for evangelical Christianity, and that is not the paper’s goal. In recent years, Brooks has identified himself as a spiritual seeker attracted to both Christianity and the Judaism into which he was born—but on his own terms. He asked himself in his book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (2019): “Do I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?” and “Do I believe his body was gone from the tomb three days after the crucifixion?” He then tells us, “The simple, brutally honest answer is, It comes and goes.”
Brooks has been an early and ardent advocate for same-sex marriage and has argued that Christians would be well-advised to abandon an ethic that limits sex to the context of heterosexual marriage. He has argued that the nuclear family was a “mistake” and that society should embrace new forms of communal life. He would tell evangelical Christians how we are to be faithful?
Evangelicals must recognize that we are facing a demand to abandon evangelicalism. Every few years, we are told by those working their way out of conservative evangelicalism that if we do not change our convictions and get with the cultural program, we will lose all the young people and find ourselves in the dustbin of history. For any number of reasons, that might actually happen, for we are not promised cultural influence or numerical strength. But evangelicalism hears this prophecy in every generation, usually made by those who crave the approval of influencers like David Brooks and want the cultural cachet of being favored by The New York Times.
Michael Gerson, Peter Wehner, and David French (all cited approvingly in Brooks’ essay) regularly castigate evangelicals to their right, and they are not alone. There is cultural favor to be found in putting distance between yourself and the unwashed evangelical horde.
But, thanks be to God, the future of evangelical Christianity in America is going to be determined by the flawed yet faithful members of Calvary Baptist Church, Christ Presbyterian Church, and the Bible church down the street, not by the editorial section of The New York Times. Right now, you can pretty much figure out where someone is headed if you know whether they see that as good news or bad news.
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