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Try Winning the Argument

April 6, 2016

A couple of days ago I read this article on the Christianity Today website by evangelical professor John Fea analyzing “The Theology of Ted Cruz.”  If you listen to Cruz’s speeches you will quickly notice that they are drenched in a form of evangelicalism that emphasizes a crusade to take back America.  In Fea’s words:  “Cruz’s Christian worldview is on display in virtually every speech he delivers. His campaign is perhaps best described as a reclamation project. He wants to “restore,” “return to,” or “reclaim” the “Judeo-Christian values” that he believes are “the foundation of this nation.”

I believe that Fea’s assessment runs pretty close to true, although the dominion theology Cruz spouts is not exactly new.  However, I expected (as did Fea) that many Cruz supporters who share his views would be unhappy.  They were.  Many of the irate responses called for all sorts of mayhem, both divine and human to fall on Fea. This is pretty much par for the course on the internet today.  If you say anything meaningful the trolls will scream and it is only too bad that there are so many Christian trolls.

Yet in some ways one of the most thoughtful responses was the most distressing.  Stan Guthrie, an editor at large for Christianity Today and a big Cruz supporter took exception.  His points were, in many ways, as thoughtful as Fea’s article was and they could have been the basis of a good discussion.  But Guthrie prefaced his remarks with this:

“On the one hand, this is clearly labeled an opinion piece and is within the bounds of evangelical discussion (though the author’s past advocacy for Obama and affiliation with the liberal Sojourners should have been noted).”

While he graciously allows that Fea’s article was “within the bounds of evangelical discussion” he then qualifies that remark by casting doubts on Fea on two levels.  First, he happens to agree with President Obama on some things (Guthrie links to such an incident.)  The message is simple – anyone who agrees with Obama on anything should not be trusted.  I spent some time on Fea’s website and found that he is quick to both agree and disagree with Obama on issues whenever he feels.  He is hardly an Obama cheerleader.  The implication however is that, if you are a real evangelical, you must always oppose the President on everything.

The second complaint is that, even though he says he is an evangelical, Fea has an “affiliation with the liberal Sojourners.”  Just what is that nefarious affiliation?  As it turns out he recently wrote one article for his own website and allowed Sojourners to reprint it on their website.   He also, several years ago, wrote another article for their magazine.  By this standard Fea also has an affiliation with Fox News and Christianity Today.  Even Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, has an affiliation with CT.

Guthrie’s message is clear – don’t trust anyone who differs with his version of reformed evangelicalism.  Even as he engages Fea in debate he shouts for his readers to discount Fea’s tainted judgement.  Guthrie is saying we can’t trust Fea because once in a while he agrees with people we don’t like.

I get tired of gatekeepers in evangelicalism; people who tell me what I can’t read and who I shouldn’t listen to.  They suck both the life and the intellectual vitality from our faith.  So go ahead Mr.Guthrie, try and demolish Fea’s argument and win us all to Ted Cruz.  But don’t do it by undercutting Fea’s integrity with your (inaccurate) guilt-by-association jabs.

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