This is probably not a ‘must read’. But it is a fun read. It’s a lament on the current American political landscape and the failure of a vast proportion of American evangelicals to think clearly. I bought the book because, after watching the whole series of the West Wing through more times than I’d like to mention, my interest in American Politics is a couple of notches further on than mild curiosity.
It’s written by Carl Trueman who’s an exiled Scottish Theologian on the staff at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. He’s the Professor of Historical Theology and Church History. He’s got a dry sense of humour, a gift for the rhetorical flourish and an axe to grind. I also think he’s got a point. And so it all makes for agreat little book.
It’s American politics that’s got under Trueman’s skin. And in particular, it’s the slavish, unthinking loyalty of theological conservatives to political conservatism that chafes. And so, to mix metaphors for a moment, he wants to get something off his chest. And he manages to do that with consummate ease. It’s a great read. I ploughed through it in no time at all and enjoyed his witty, perceptive insights. It’s also an easy read, which is always an added bonus. It was thoroughly un-demanding except in the sense that it made me revisit my political assumptions.
Trueman’s beef is that contemporary American evangelicalism runs a massive risk of shooting itself in the foot by ‘requiring’ theological conservatives [such as himself] to also be political conservatives [which he isn’t]. He argues that if you hitch the evangelical cause to the Republican wagon then not only do you grossly oversimplify complex issues but you also run the risk of losing the younger generation for whom gay marriage and abortion are not the only political issues on which Christians feel they should engage. But it would be wrong to portray his concern as pragmatic. It’s not. His concern is that Christians think about each issue from a biblical perspective and stop thinking that the Republicans are the automatic party of choice for evangelicals.
In chapter one, entitled ‘Left Behind’, Trueman begins by going after the political liberals. Before he attacks the right he has a go at the left. And it’s sharp. He argues that American Democrats have drifted away from the compassionate care that ought to underpin their political ideology. Instead of protecting the weak and vulnerable from economic oppression they now deal in psychological oppression. In other words, they’ve become obsessed with defending the so-called ‘rights’ of anyone who feels marginalised by the majority. This new left is not the old left who thought of oppression in mainly economic categories.
In chapter two, The Slipperiness of Secularization’, he argues that American culture is much more secularised than they think. He’s not convinced that the religious fervour and rhetoric has much substance to it. The language may be religious but the content isn’t.
In chapter three, ‘Not-so-Fantastic Mr. Fox’, he reckons that American evangelicals pay way too much attention to Fox News. He understands that all reporting has an agenda. He gets that. History is his profession. He knows that News Editors make decisions about what to cover and how to cover it which are informed by the presuppositions of those that control the news agenda. But his issue is that evangelicals seem to think that Fox News is somehow the sole guardian of news reporting truth.
In chapter four, ‘Living Life to the Max’, he argues that American evangelicals have baptised capitalism.This uncritical allegiance to an economic system has led to a litany of ungodly appetites such as consumerism, materialism and acquisitiveness.
In chapter five, ‘Rulers of the Queen’s Navee’, he bemoans the fact that American politics is obsessed with style over substance. In a radio interview he said that the Britain he left nine years ago suffered from the same issue. I have to tell him that things have changed.
It’s engagingly written. It’s provocative but I’m not in the immediate firing line so it didn’t hurt. It’s witty and it’s hugely entertaining. And he’s got a point. I found myself needing to query my political affiliations on more than one occasion. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you buy it. It’s going for a little under £7 on Amazon.
There’s an illuminating 45 minute video discussion and interview with Carl Trueman here, which is well worth watching.
Not everyone agrees with Trueman’s analysis. Kevin de Young has made some observations here.