Facing the Smallness (and Greatness) of the Remnant

I have already discussed the impeachment so I don’t need to restate my view of that event. Some things have broken in the news since yesterday, however. Christianity Today ran an editorial by its Editor in Chief, Mark Galli, calling for Trump to be removed from office. This ran one day after the impeachment. Obviously Galli, and by extension his publication, picked a side in a protracted and controversial dispute.

Chick Fil-A, Hallmark, SBC, CT: What does it all mean?

Quite a bit has been written about Galli’s piece, including smart ripostes from Carl Trueman, Jim Garlow, and Robert A. J. Gagnon. Collectively they note certain problems with Galli’s take on the impeachment. For one thing Galli claims to seek consistency but fails to show it. He likens his publication’s past endorsement of the Clinton impeachment to the Trump impeachment, though Clinton committed an actual crime (perjury) whereas nobody has proved Trump broke any laws. Also, and perhaps more importantly, Galli cites Christian ethics while violating a basic tenet of Christianity. Galli lacks charity in assuming too much about the motives behind evangelicals who support Trump. He implies that they do not see Trump’s moral failings as serious because they want the social power that Trump gives evangelicals. This is really an atrocious thing to allege against fellow Christians and from most available evidence, not even true.

But I won’t belabor the problem with Galli’s article here. I focus on a larger issue. Christianity Today was founded by Billy Graham and has an enormous reach, with over two million Facebook followers according to the site’s own stats. The obvious leaning of the publication away from the grassroots conservatism of evangelicals in the pews toward a cosmopolitan centrism more akin to National Review and the Yale Tories must disappoint many. It disappoints me. The wobbling and seemingly duplicitous language games behind Christianity Today’s plea for evangelicals to turn on Trump echos the same deconstructionist feints we see in many other traditional Christian institutions that have gone the way of NeverTrumpers. Think of the Gospel Coalition, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and thinktanks like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. These organizations are not like any other public stronghold controlled by liberals. They used to be citadels for people with a conservative Christian conscience.

Now they’re lost. And Christians out in the grassroots are starting to wonder what isn’t lost.

Christianity Today follows at least three other major organizations that people find disconcertingly adrift.

For a long time Christians relied on Chick Fil-A to stand strong as a Christian bulwark in the middle of corporate capitalism. Then last month, Chick Fil-A announced that it would relent somewhat from its public reputation as a front in the culture wars. Apparently to curry favor with people who have objected to President Dan Cathy’s endorsement of traditional marriage, the corporate decision-makers at Chick Fil-A have opted to discontinue funding of Christian charities that have “antigay” reputations, such as the Salvation Army. When this news broke outrage ensued. The Chick Fil-A press office then tried damage control by claiming it was part of a general reprioritizing of the corporation’s giving. But soon citizen journalists investigated and found that Chick Fil-A had indeed turned drastically to the left, funding anti-Christian organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center even while banking on robust business from Christian patrons who ate there because they saw the chain as fighting against anti-Christian bias.

Not long after Chick Fil-A’s story broke, a wave of negative stories came from the Southern Baptist Convention. J.D. Greear, the SBC president, had already cited Rosaria Butterfield’s concept of “hospitality” to advocate for using trans pronouns. Karen Swallow Prior, a controversial Liberty professor who endorsed the Revoice conference, came up in the news again. It was announced that she would was going to be hired by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. And to make this development even more unsettling, this announcement came just as I was being fired by Southeastern’s sister seminary, Southwestern. Meanwhile, the powerful echelons at the head of the SBC, including Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, and Albert Mohler, all seemed to be covering for the power brokers who were making these unwise decisions. Many observers speculated that they were pulling strings behind the scenes and calling the shots.

Just as the SBC, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination with almost 15 million members, seemed to be falling apart, Hallmark caved. The saccharine and formulaic Christmas movies on the Hallmark channels may have never risen to high levels of cinematic sophistication. They did endear millions of Christian viewers to them, though. Though some liberals had been criticizing Hallmark for being too white and heterosexual, the channel had protected its niche market by sticking with a wholesome and chaste bank of scripts. This year, though, gay groups managed to get Hallmark to run ads with gay couples on the channel. Christian activists revolted, prompting Hallmark to take the ads down. Then the LGBT activist community engaged in a public-relations backlash, driving Hallmark not only to reinstate the gay ads but to work with GLAAD on new programming. They hoped, it seems, to apply the sugary and hokey Hallmark formula to narratives about same-sex couples.

With Christianity Today coming out fully against Trump, conservative evangelicals have now had to grapple with four massive losses. Chick FIl-A, the Southern Baptist Convention, Hallmark, and Christianity Today, had all shown warning signs here and there. But for years, while so many other organizations caved completely or got exposed for rank corruption, evangelicals relied on these entities to resist social pressure and deliver, instead, reliably conservative products that Christians could live with. Even adore.

The Lord’s hand is probably at work here. During the Bush era, conservative evangelicals may have grown too comfortable. They may have developed the illusion that their political and economic clout made them untouchable. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The influence that conservative evangelicals had in the voting booth and marketplace made them extremely vulnerable to infiltration and exploitation. Groups that care nothing for the gospel of Jesus Christ want to “supplant,” to use Denise McAllister’s term, the social power that they believed evangelicals wielded. Chick Fil-A and Hallmark are both corporations, so anti-Christian forces influenced them with money. Christianity Today is a publication and wants prestige more than anything else, so anti-conservative forces infiltrated the publication by tempting its editors and writers with the Faustian promise of social acclaim and acceptance in metropolitan circles. Finally, the Southern Baptist Convention became a giant in the political sphere so the Jezebel spirit crept into its seminaries by promising leaders greater influence and prominence in exchange for stealth liberalization.

I have heard from students who objected to my criticisms of Chick Fil-A because they say that the organization still does good. Fine. Many organizations do good. Target gives to charities even as it pushes trans bathrooms. We must look holistically at our situation with formerly trusted organizations and draw a reasonable conclusion. It is reasonable to conclude that we, as conservative evangelicals, put far too much trust in institutions simply because (1) they were rich and prestigious, and (2) they paid lip service to our values. We made ourselves far too easy to trick and exploit.

In 2020, this has to change. We have to keep the Book of Revelation close to our heart. Maybe today is nowhere near the end times. The spirit of John of Patmos’s work holds true regardless. Writing in a time when Christian churches were scattered and powerlessly besieged by the Roman empire, John’s prophecy amazes me because he saw a glimpse of a future that he would have had no way of envisioning absent divine inspiration. He pictured a time far in the future when Christianity would not be a beleaguered sect but an overgrown and complacent beast. He imagined churches that grew comfortable and smug. Of the seven churches to which he wrote, five were fallen churches because they thought themselves rich (falsely), were lukewarm, welcomed sexual degeneracy into their midst, and so on. The mark of the beast appears on the deceived followers’ forehead and wrist, where the law of Moses was supposed to be placed according to Deuteronomy 6:8. The implication is that the might and splendor of a corrupted church would be a great problem in the last days.

Since John’s writings on Patmos, we have been moving toward those last days. And we can see the essence of his prophecy playing out. Remember that only two of seven churches to which he writes stand true in the opening chapters of Revelation. The remnant will be small. The bigger the institution the more it will look like the beasts of Revelation, rather than the remnant of saints.

Conservative evangelicals latched onto Chick Fil-A, the Southern Baptist Convention, Hallmark, and Christianity Today because we sought comfort–but comfort is not a spiritual gift. Nor is it a Biblical value. Quite the opposite. Christ demands that we be willing to endure in His name. Look at how we celebrate Christmas. The birth of Christ involves a poor family having no place to stay and having to cradle their baby in a feeding trough. Then they have to flee a murderous ruler who wants to slaughter innocent children. The beauty of the Christmas story does not line in comfort, even though we tend to celebrate Christmas by gathering in the comfort of our safe houses and reveling in our well-heated homes while we exchange gifts and pleasantries. The Christmas story should be about the resilience of those whom God has promised to save, even in the face of poverty and violence.

We must live out the word of God in 2020. We should feel betrayed by long-treasured institutions that go against us. But we should not be surprised and we should not dwell on them. We must go out as a remnant, no matter how few we are, and fight for the gospel. How that looks may vary from person to person. But one thing will remain consistent. Whoever looks for an easy or comfortable way to champion Jesus in 2020 will find themselves consumed by one beast or another.