Are the 81 Percent Evangelicals?

Just because people claim the name shouldn’t automatically imply they heed what it means.

Evangelical support for President Donald Trump wasn’t enough to win him another term. But it was enough to confirm evangelicals’ reputation among the broader public as perhaps the Trumpiest demographic in America.

Whether that perception is fair is disputable, certainly. The well-known report that 81 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 was never really accurate. Derived from exit polls, it ignored the millions of evangelicals who didn’t vote for Trump because they didn’t vote at all. Widely shared as descriptive of the whole evangelical vote, it only considered white voters, though evangelicalism is increasingly racially diverse.

It also counted as evangelical anyone who simply claimed the label, though self-identification is a messy metric that includes “evangelicals” who don’t believe or behave as longstanding definitions of evangelicalism stipulate. And, after all those qualifications, it wasn’t even 81 percent: Later, better studies put that figure in the mid-70s, matching the very consistent rate at which self-identified white evangelical voters supported other recent GOP nominees.

But will any of this nuance, or whatever shifts in evangelical voting patterns may appear in the 2020 data, make a difference? I don’t think so. “Americans seem to increasingly view evangelicals through a political lens,” the Barna Group summarized in survey results from late 2019. For many of our compatriots, “evangelicals” are first and foremost a voting bloc. A term intended to signal views on salvation, Scripture, and service now communicates political alignment with a single party and a president.

The defensibility of that ...

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‘Paul and the Gift’ Is the Gift That Keeps on Giving

Theologian John Barclay distills and updates his game-changing study of God’s “incongruous” grace in Christ.

In an early episode of NBC’s sitcom The Office, corporate America boss-extraordinaire Michael Scott hosts a Secret Santa party for his employees. Each person is supposed to bring a gift of not more than $20 to exchange with another. But Michael, wanting to add some spice to the evening, brings a $400 video iPod (remember those?). Wearing a lopsided Santa hat, Michael explains his rationale: “[A gift… it’s] like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars’ worth.’”

I often use that illustration with my students when I try to help them reflect on the complications of gift giving. Is it any wonder, I ask them, that a gift like Michael’s caused his Secret Santa party to descend into chaos? (You’ll have to watch the “Christmas Party” episode to see the sad, hilarious debacle.) At one level, it’s just a gift and shouldn’t be expected to surprise anyone, least of all at a Christmas party. We all know the choreography of exchanging presents. And yet, by giving a gift out of all proportion with the rules of the game, Michael not only disrupts the social equilibrium of the office he manages but also raises questions for us, the viewers, about what counts as an appropriate gift—and what criteria we might use to warrant our answer.

A Long-Running Conversation

We sitcom viewers are hardly the first ones in history to wonder about best practices when it comes to giving and receiving gifts. Throughout antiquity, philosophers, dramatists, orators, and others were engaged in a lively conversation about gifts.

The early first-century Stoic philosopher Seneca, to choose just one exemplar, dispensed definite opinions ...

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Only Biblical Peacemaking Resolves Racial and Political Injustice

No other group is better situated to bring healing to this land than the church.

Faith, race, and politics were front and center in Georgia’s US Senate runoff. Raphael Warnock, the current pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church, won a historic election, during which his sermons and social activism were called into question. White evangelicals were appalled by Warnock’s pulpit rebukes of police brutality and militarism. Senator Marsha Blackburn tweeted a snippet of a sermon and said, “Warnock’s radical, anti-American views are disqualifying” and that he should withdraw from the race. Conversely, while many black Christians wouldn’t defend his pro-choice platform (among other secular progressive stances), a lot of us certainly agreed with the assertion that the Bible has something to say about racial injustice. In his book Reading While Black, Esau McCaulley says the “call for individual and societal transformation” is the mainstream black ecclesial tradition. Consequently, the election highlighted the sociopolitical divide between white evangelicals and the black church.

These two groups share the Great Commission but couldn’t be further apart socially. The American church may never agree on partisan affiliation, but what must we agree on in regard to racial justice? The Bible doesn’t make burrowing further into our ideological nests or putting our faith in politicians an option (John 13:34–35). Biblically speaking, what should be our tone and actions when it comes to race and politics?

In 2020, the pandemic forced Americans to distance ourselves physically. Our politics, identities, and worldviews forced us further apart too. We watch the same occurrences and walk away not only with different opinions, but with a different ...

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‘Soul’ and the Purpose-Driven Generation

Disney Pixar’s latest film reminds us that life is meaningful beyond achieving our goals or saving the world.

Joe Gardner has always felt like he was “born to play” jazz piano. When he fulfills his dream of playing with famous saxophonist Dorothea Williams, he asks her, “So, what happens next?” She responds: “We come back tomorrow night and do it all again.” Despondently, Joe confesses, “I’ve been waiting on this day for my entire life. I thought I’d feel different.”

Disney Pixar’s Soul offers a surprisingly heady philosophical message to a distressed generation that is trying to find purpose through meaningful work. The film’s main insight is something Christians already know: There’s more to life than our accomplishments. In fact, this realization is what inspired the film’s concept, according to director Pete Docter. After completing the popular Pixar film Inside Out, he was left wondering what was next. “I realized that as wonderful as these projects are, there’s more to living than a singular passion,” Docter said. “Sometimes the small insignificant things are what it’s really about.”

Docter’s message is embodied in the character of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a part-time music teacher who has greater aspirations to perform professionally as a jazz pianist. His whole life is encumbered with reaching this one goal, but when he finally gets his break with Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), Joe takes an unfortunate fall that nearly destroys his dream—casting him into the afterlife.

The afterlife consists of two parts: the Great Before and the Great Beyond. Joe finds himself in the Great Before—a place where new souls find their personalities and their “spark”—activities or experiences ...

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Herman Bavinck’s Balancing Act, and Ours

As a new biography shows, the Dutch Reformed theologian was adept at navigating perennial tensions of Christ and culture.

Who is Herman Bavinck, and why should contemporary Christians care about him? James Eglinton’s penetrating new study, Bavinck: A Critical Biography, goes a long way toward answering these questions.

Eglinton, who teaches Reformed theology at the University of Edinburgh, has produced a magisterial work that figures to become the leading biography of the great Dutch Reformed theologian (1854–1921). Along with Abraham Kuyper, Bavinck was an important figure in the neo-Calvinist movement in the Netherlands in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. A theological giant in his own right, Bavinck has received increased attention in the English-speaking world, especially following the translation of his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics, but is still too little known (especially outside the Dogmatics).

Eglinton’s biography provides a welcome correction, surpassing previous accounts of Bavinck’s work in several ways. It is impressively researched, drawing from a wide array of unpublished and frequently overlooked material. Related to this, it provides generally better-informed interpretations of Bavinck’s life and thought, identifying reasons to depart from previous scholarship on a variety of issues. It is also well written and clearly organized, guiding the reader through varied subjects without a sense of wasted space or meandering.

The book’s great theme is that Bavinck, as a theologian, was both orthodox and modern. In the introduction, Eglinton sets up the biography as an extension of his earlier book, Trinity and Organism, which had argued against the tendency to separate these two aspects of Bavinck’s thought. Rejecting what he terms the “two Bavincks” approach (or the “Jekyll ...

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Houston Megachurch Pastor Sentenced to Prison Over $3.5M Fraud Scheme

Church leaders believe entrepreneurial pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell already accounted for the wrong by apologizing and repaying investors.

A Houston megachurch has sided with its longtime pastor, Kirbyjon Caldwell, and expressed disappointment in a recent sentence that will send him behind bars for six years for his role in a fraudulent investment scheme.

After Wednesday’s sentencing in federal court in Shreveport, Louisiana, the leaders of Windsor United Methodist Church defended Caldwell, who has served the church for 38 years but gave up his title as senior pastor when he pled guilty in the faulty Chinese bonds case last year.

“We’re very disappointed that Caldwell’s contributions to society and his extraordinary efforts to make every victim whole resulted in [this] sentence,” said Floyd J. LeBlanc, chairman of the church’s personnel committee. “We look to God because we believe God has a final answer in everything.”

Caldwell, a spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush, was known for his entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Through the predominantly African American church and his own projects, he invested millions into community development and job creation in southwest Houston.

The fraudulent scheme, which totaled $3.5 millions of bonds targeting elderly investors, has led to him and his Louisiana-based investment adviser being charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud; both pleaded guilty.

In a video on behalf of the church staff, LeBlanc blamed the adviser and emphasized that Caldwell was also a victim in the scheme, having first invested in the Chinese bonds himself. The church believes that his generosity and desire to pay back victims had already accounted for the wrong he’d done.

UM News reported that before his sentencing, the 67-year-old pastor told the judge, “This experience has brought ...

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Trump and Biden Disagree on Sanctions. So Do Evangelicals Outside the US.

Longstanding foreign policy tool impacts national economies. But evangelicals from US to Syria and Iran differ on who deserves blame.

If President-elect Joe Biden makes good on his campaign rhetoric, his sanctions policy will meet the approval of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

Back in April, as even the strongest nations reeled from COVID-19, then-candidate Biden petitioned the Trump administration for sanctions relief on the hardest-hit nations—including Iran and Syria.

“In times of global crisis, America should lead,” he said.

“We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.”

In September, the WEA joined Caritas, the World Council of Churches, and others to similarly petition the United Nations’s Human Rights Council.

“We are deeply concerned about the negative economic, social, and humanitarian consequences of unilateral sanctions,” read their statement, ostensibly singling out the United States and its European allies.

“It is a legal and moral imperative to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need, without delay or impediment.”

One month later at the UN, China led 26 nations—including sanctions-hit Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela—to assert that the economic impact impedes pandemic response and undermines the right to health.

This is “disinformation,” said Johnnie Moore, appointed by President Donald Trump to serve on the independent, bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

He called the WEA statement “almost indefensible.”

“Sanctions against countries that imperil their citizens and the world is good policy,” Moore said. “It has proven to be an effective alternative to save lives, alongside ...

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Interview: God Called Me to Encourage Fellow Black Students in White Coats

CCCU Young Alumni Award winner discusses how diversity in medicine improves care for the most vulnerable.

Thirty-year-old medical student Emmanuel McNeely considers his life goal and God-given calling to work toward gender and racial diversity in medicine.

“That way we can help eliminate health disparities and really improve health outcomes for all races,” said McNeely, a 2012 graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University currently pursuing his doctorate in medicine at the Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.

As an African American med student planning to specialize in orthopedic surgery, McNeely believes his career ambitions are a direct result of a surgeon who took the time to mentor him. He has co-founded The Dr. M.D. Project to provide more minority students with guidance in the field. The project earned McNeely the 2021 Young Alumni Award from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).

McNeely, “embodies the whole-person love and care that Jesus himself models for us in Scripture,” said CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra. “The global pandemic has highlighted just how important it is for us to have medical professionals like Emmanuel who are committed both to serving and training up the next generation of leaders within underrepresented communities.”

Study after study has detailed the health disparities between black and white patients in the United States, with black Americans suffering from diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease at higher rates while receiving lesser care.

Researchers have found that black patients seen by black doctors have better health outcomes, but only around 5 percent of active physicians are black, according to a 2018 survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

A Chicago native, McNeely’s ...

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Most Evangelical Trump Voters Didn’t Turn on Mike Pence

While Trump extremists set the vice president up as a traitor, most believers stood by his decision to confirm the election.

At a farewell gathering last Friday, outgoing Vice President Mike Pence recalled the Bible reference his chief of staff texted him after he certified Joe Biden’s victory, The Washington Post reported. It was 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Pence was pushed into the political spotlight during the tense final weeks of the presidential term, as he refused President Donald Trump’s demands that he use his position to fight the election results and then refused Democrats’ demands that he invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

But Christian political scientists say recent events won’t do much to separate Pence’s legacy from Trump’s contentious shadow. MAGA loyalists will side with the president over him, and evangelicals who respected Pence’s character from the beginning see his conscience on display as he broke from the president’s campaign to discredit the election.

Pence was welcomed on to Trump’s presidential ticket back in 2016 largely for his faith. One of the most outspoken evangelicals ever elected vice president, he was framed as the kind of moral, dependable politician Republican Christians could trust—before Trump built up his own evangelical networks and ties.

Though the VP spent most of the past four years working in the background and standing by the president, that dynamic has shifted in recent weeks. Pence has taken a place in the political spotlight and opposed to Trump, who said his vice president “didn’t have the courage” to reject the congressional confirmation of the election, though Pence insisted he did not have constitutional authority to do ...

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When Will Churches Be Back? Vital Information for Churches and Christian Leaders

A brief overview of Ed Stetzer's interview with Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health

Ed Stetzer: [Church leaders] are asking questions about when we might be back together. Help us understand the timeline a bit more, knowing thing might not go the way that we expect.

Dr. Francis Collins: I’ve been working from home for almost a year and I expect I’m going to be in my home office for a few more months. Here we are at the beginning of 2021, and this pandemic across our country is the worst it’s been, with 3,000 people or more losing their lives every day.

The bright spot, of course, is the development of vaccines. We do now have two such vaccines that are carefully reviewed, shown to be safe and effective by rigorous means, and authorized by the FDA for emergency use. We’re doing everything we can to get those dosages into people’s arms because that is how we are going to get past this.

I know people may have mixed feelings about the vaccine. For me, as a scientist, it feels to me that God gave us the skills to be able to understand how these things work, to identify this pathogen, and to (in record time) be able to come up with the vaccine, which has 95% efficacy. They’re actually a lot better than most of us dreamed we would have at the present time. So this is a gift from God, and a gift we all need to embrace to get past this.

To be able to immunize 300 million people is not something that can be done in less than a few months. I do think, by June or thereabouts, we might be getting close to that point where 80-85% of the country is immune. At that point, the virus has to start fading away, because there aren’t enough new people to infect.

I don’t think that we’ll be able to bring churches together for an Easter celebration this year, though I would love ...

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3 Bioethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines

After considering new mRNA technology, Christian experts are in favor.

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the US expands from health care staff to elderly citizens and essential workers, Americans are weighing whether to get the shot when given the chance.

Though the coronavirus vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer represent a new type of vaccine—using mRNA rather than a weakened form of the virus to trigger the immune response—some of the basic ethical questions around them stem from existing concerns over vaccination.

Vaccine hesitancy ranked among the World Health Organization’s top 10 threats to global health in 2019, before the pandemic began. Some American Christians have declined vaccines due to ethical and religious concerns over their formulation, and some share concerns with the vaccine-hesitant minority over safety and side effects.

The COVID-19 vaccine, so far, has been shown to be 94–95 percent effective, with side effects that go away within a few days. Still, 50 percent of white evangelicals and 59 percent of black Protestants say they won’t get it, while the majority of the US population overall (60%) says they will, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey.

Despite the ambivalence, Christians have historically advocated for vaccination as an expression of love for neighbors, saying the benefits far outweigh the chance of harm. In the 1700s, Puritan preacher Cotton Mather urged his congregation to be inoculated from smallpox before the first vaccination had even been successfully developed. Today, leading Christian medical professionals and ethicists promote vaccines.

With today’s generation of American faithful once again considering whether a vaccine is safe and ethical, many evangelical organizations and experts have already weighed in. ...

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