The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism

Tim Alberta is a journalist with The Atlantic and contributor to numerous other publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the author of a New York Times bestseller American Carnage. Alberta is a Christian, son of a conservative pastor in Michigan, and has a firm grasp on the gospel and the purpose of the church, which is to make disciples for Christ (p. 432). As the author sees it, evangelicalism today is divided into two camps: one faithful to the eternal covenant, the other seduced by national idols (p. 3). This book is a search for an answer for the serious foundational shift that has taken place, particularly within the second group (pp. 1, 3, 9, 23-24, 77), which is linked to the popularity of Donald Trump (p. 1). As evidence of this shift, in 2011 only 30% of evangelicals thought an immoral president could lead the country, but by 2016, 72% did. Something has changed, but what? What is wrong with American evangelicals? Alberta contends that too many now worship America (p. 23) and are focused on building an earthly kingdom instead of God’s kingdom (pp. 50, 435). Trumpism and those who are confusing America with God’s kingdom are destroying the evangelical church. This is the thesis of the book (pp. 329, 425).

Alberta supports his thesis by traveling to many rallies, churches, and colleges (especially Liberty University) and conducting numerous interviews. He found churches and institutions deeply divided and often devastated by ideological issues. Most concerning, are those who believe that America is God’s chosen people and the goal of Christians is to preserve and build America’s kingdom. Documenting the case for this view takes up the bulk of the book.

Much attention is given to Jerry Falwell, Sr. (pp. 52-87) and his founding of the Moral Majority as well as Liberty University. Also under review is Robert Jeffries (pp. 106-124, 325), David Barton and his American Restoration Tour (pp. 157-167), Charlie Kirk (pp. 311-315) who claimed that Trump is the most moral president on record (p 175), Ralph Reed and his Freedom (Christian) Coalition (pp. 180-187, 193, 210, 299-303), Paula White (pp. 188-189), Tucker Carlson (pp.235, 348-350), The ReAwaken American Tour (p. 263), The Great Reset conspiracy theory (p. 264), Stephen E. Strang (pp. 266-276), Eric Metaxas (pp. 315-318), Julie Kelly (p. 319), the Southern Baptist Convention (pp. 352-370), and Liberty University under Jerry Falwell Jr. (pp. 392-420) and its Standing for Freedom Center (p. 84).  In addition, Franklin Graham and Mike Huckabee are supporters of Trump (pp. 24, 80, 229), and even Mike Pence speaks as if America is God’s chosen nation, the new Israel (pp. 26, 28), and calls on Americans to fix our eyes on Old Glory (p. 194) rather than Christ. Of a more general nature are the countless conspiracy theories generated to excite fear and control people (pp. 150, 156, 193). Alberta accuses many evangelicals of distorting Scripture for the “greater good” (p. 231), and he is rightly concerned that if we get the easy things wrong, people will conclude that we are wrong on the important things such as salvation and sanctification (pp. 156, 244, 310). As a result of this shift in evangelical thought, the very word evangelical has now become toxic, having become associated with right-wing politics (p. 138). 

The author laments that many apparently think, “The first step toward preserving Christian values it seems, is to do away with them” (p. 179). By this he refers to the hateful, manipulative, caustic, distortion of truth, winner-take-all behavior of Trump and those who have put America before Christ. He reminds us that Christ gave us only two promises: eternal life, and suffering on earth (p. 123). He gave us no guarantees of a present day kingdom on earth.

On the other side of this aisle, Alberta places Russell Moore, Daniel Darling (pp. 331-337), Carl Thomas (pp. 200-217), David French (343-348), Rachael Denhollander (pp. 370-397), and Julie Roys (pp. 376-380) among those evangelicals who he believes maintain a biblical balance and serve first the kingdom of God. Carl Thomas, one of the key leaders of the Moral Majority who later recognized the fallacies of that movement and wrote Blinded by Might to document his concern, said that we are losing the battle because we are using the wrong weapons (i.e. political rather than spiritual ones) (p. 201). Denhollander and Roys have exposed sexual and power scandals within the evangelical community. But Russell Moore seems to be the poster child of what Alberta thinks is the healthy side of evangelicalism (pp. 88-105, 205-212).

Alberta’s depiction of the lane Moore represents is the weakest part of the book. Without a doubt, Russel Moore has many good qualities and has been vilified unjustly at times by those who oppose him. However, while the author did careful analysis of the errors of the far right, he glosses over those of Moore and company. He presents the so called “pirates” of the Southern Baptist Convention as vicious predators who are out to destroy a purely innocent and thoroughly biblical man. Alberta does not look behind the scenes at Moore’s actions and positions to show why many are deeply concerned about him. This same approach is used when attacking the Southern Baptist Convention for its complementarian position (p. 386), or DeSantis’s political policies (p. 328). He also seems to minimize concerns such as Black Lives Matter, transgenderism, LGBTQ, gay ministers, and abortion, and frames them as political rather than moral issues (pp. 30, 219, 238). This is a serious error. And while Alberta is correct to call out the extreme right for its many flaws, he does not give careful analysis of those who oppose the right. The reader of this volume would come away believing that Russell Moore and those who take his position are mere victims of a self righteous, hateful coalition out to destroy innocent people. The truth is far more nuanced than that but ignored by Alberta. One example is Moore’s newest attempt to turn the church with his The After Party curriculum funded by unbelievers (such as the ultra-liberal Rockefeller Foundation) by design (pp. 337-347). All is not well here, and in all fairness should have drawn much closer attention by Alberta.

Alberta’s central message is as follows: 

More than any figure in American history, the forty-fifth president transformed evangelical from spiritual signifier into political punch line, exposing the selective morality and ethical inconsistency and rank hypocrisy that had for so long lurked in the subconscious of the movement. To be fair, this slow-motion reputational collapse predated Trump; he did not author the cultural insecurities of the Church.  But he did identify them, and prey upon them, in ways that have accelerated the unraveling of institutional Christianity in the United States (p. 438).

The author defended and documented this message well. Unfortunately, he did not carefully examine others (such as Moore) who are leading evangelicalism in an equally concerning but different direction. But even with this flaw, Alberta gives the Christian community much to ponder, and his warnings that our kingdom is not of this world, and behaving in an ungodly manner is not conducive to biblical life and influence, is something every Christian needs to take seriously.

by Tim Alberta (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publisher, 2022), 493 pp., hard $35.00

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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