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Can the American Gospel save America?

This week’s Christian Today column – you can get the original here.

Can the American Gospel save America?

George Floyd protests
Protesters rally at the White House against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, D.C., May 31.(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Those of us who love the USA have been watching with a mix of horror and despair as we observe the havoc being wrecked by the racism that was a major cause in the death of George Floyd, and the riots in reaction to it.

Are We Witnessing the End of the USA?

When this has been added on to the fear, death and economic destruction caused by Covid, it seems as though the US is in deep trouble. Are we witnessing the end of US hegemony in the world? Are we witnessing the end of the US as we know it? Some will wish that it were so. For them the end of the US is good news – although they have no idea what the world would be like without the US. For me and many others, we are watching the decline of the US with a growing sense of dread. Is there no good news?

American Gospel

An astonishing documentary film on Netflix at least partially answers that question. American Gospel is a two-hour film and a fascinating exposé of the prosperity gospel – which it shows as no Gospel at all. But the documentary is much, much more. Most of all it tells us what the real good news is. John Piper, Jackie Hill Perry, Matt Chandler, Julius Kim, Ray Comfort, Paul Washer and many others give us great good news! It’s a long time since I have seen a film that could make this Scottish Presbyterian raise his hands and shout hallelujah like the most fervent charismatic!

The Prosperity Gospel

The prosperity gospel is not the good news that America needs. Yet it is in American soil that it thrives the most. What is the prosperity gospel? Let me share it as I have experienced it in Scotland. I was at a meeting where the preacher declared “why have a Mini when God can give you a Rolls Royce”. She then went on to talk about ‘sowing seed’ before passing round a bucket and saying that if we put £10 in, we would get £100 back.

The prosperity gospel is the idea that God will give you whatever you want (money and health – i.e. prosperity) if only you have enough faith (and of course sow your seed!). It’s sometimes known as the Word of Faith movement.

Another time I was with my friend, Duncan, at a Christian meeting. Duncan had muscular dystrophy and was in a wheelchair. We knew the prognosis was that he would have a couple of years to live. The preacher at that meeting told Duncan that if he just had enough faith he could get up and walk out of that wheelchair. That’s the nearest I ever came to punching someone at a meeting! It was a cruel and wicked thing to say.

The prosperity gospel is no good news at all – because if you don’t get out of the wheelchair, or if you are poor, it’s your fault. It’s your lack of faith. If on the other hand you make $700 million out of preaching it (the reputed worth of Kenneth Copeland, one of its most famous exponents) that’s because you deserve it…you have the faith.

Perhaps the most enlightening part of the documentary is the interview with Costi Hinn (nephew of Benny Hinn). He talked about how as a prosperity gospel preacher it was hard to live with the fact that he and his colleagues turned away people who brought their sick babies to be healed, while they lived in the luxury of their offerings.

What’s Missing from American Gospel?

This is not the Gospel that America needs just now (or ever). So what is? I think that the American Gospel does a good job of explaining what the Gospel is – but there is still something missing in its application. While the film is right to deal with the heresies of the prosperity gospel, I think that we also need to look at other ways that the church has failed in its communication of the Good News. Three things I read were extremely helpful in understanding this.

Firstly, the historian Tom Holland wrote a brilliant article “America is the Greatest Story Ever Told”. In it he traces how from the beginning, America was founded upon and deeply steeped in Christianity. But things have changed:

“Today, although Martin Luther King’s people may remain stranded in the wilderness, the Bible no longer structures the dread and the dreamings of Americans in the way that once it did. The book which for King had been a supreme inspiration has chiefly played a role in the current crisis as a prop held upside down by President Trump. Yet the tracks of Christian theology, as Nietzsche once complained, wind everywhere.”

Secondly was this remarkable tweet from Beth Moore, an influential American evangelical “I think we are experiencing a divine reckoning in America. I don’t think the reckoning is over our having simply sinned. I think it’s over the fact that we have used God & the Bible to do it.”

It’s not just the misuse of the Gospel to sell the consumerist ‘American dream’. Nor the way that politics and religion have become so intertwined in a state that was designed to prevent that happening. A W Tozer wrote in 1953,”The religion so common in the United States today, which confuses Caesar and makes Christianity and Americanism one and the same thing, has resulted from a blind misunderstanding of the whole Christian position. It has no justification in the New Testament.”

Screenshot 2020-06-07 06.31.03A classic example of this in American Gospel is this quote from President Trump: “Why do I have to repent? Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if you’re not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honourable person…..I try to lead a life where I don’t have to ask God for forgiveness.”

Much of the US church has, as Moore indicates, sold its biblical birthright for a mess of such works-based self-righteousness. Thankfully as, American Gospel shows, that is not the whole church.

Which leads me to a third article – by Professor James Eglinton of the University of Edinburgh entitled ‘Bavinck on Racism in America’. Herman Bavinck was a famous Dutch theologian who travelled to North America twice – in 1892 and 1908. His observations more than 100 years later are still apposite. He considered the most difficult aspect of American culture to be its deep-seated racism. In 1909, in a lecture in Rotterdam, he warned:

“In the future, there truly lurks a danger, and in the future a struggle will doubtless be fought between black and white, a heated struggle, fanned into flame by the strong antipathy on both sides.”

White Supremacists, Woke Identitarians and Weak Christians

What is the answer to this? It cannot be the ‘white supremacists’ who will only make the problem worse. Nor is it the woke identitarians whose methodology suggests that we should jump out of the frying pan into the fire. The weak Christians, who talk and sing about love, don’t have a solution because they have no gospel of salvation to preach to the lost because they don’t believe that people are lost, and they struggle to define what love actually is!

Eglinton points out the answer that Bavinck gave in 1909. Only the way of religion can prevent future bloodshed, because the Gospel teaches that ‘the whole human race is of one blood’. I would also add that in order to prevent bloodshed, we need to accept the blood of Jesus Christ – his atoning sacrifice for our sin. Sometimes racism, like other sins, is so deeply ingrained in the human heart, that we need a new heart to drive it out. Only Christ and his work on the cross, can atone for the past, give us a new heart, and lead us into a brighter future. America needs less of American cultural religion and more of the Good News of Christ.

This need was demonstrated in a surprising way this week on the James Corden show – where, in responding to President Trump’s bible photo op, he got his father to come and show how to properly hold a Bible. Malcolm Corden was a Bible salesman.

 

What struck me about this clip – was not just the humour but rather the clear affection between father and son, an affection which allowed Malcolm to read the first eight verses from Psalm 37. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” It was a moving and beautiful moment – in the midst of great ugliness.

God bless America.

Is Donald Trump the Christian President?

The Sick Nation and Its Healing?

Quantum 97 – Floyd; Covid Hypocrisy; NI Abortion; Nigeria; Sweden; China, Churches, Hong Kong; The Sugababes; Cyber Church; Fleetwood Mac; How Great Thou Art

After another Christian loses faith, is convenience Christianity to blame? CT

 

 

12 comments

  1. I agree. American Gospel delivers the greatest news of all and opens our eyes to the horrors of the prosperity movement. I watched a little while ago on I-tunes. It’s part of a series and the second one focuses on the cross. I’ve not seen that yet but the fact that it exists is a bit worrying. I think I know why.
    Having stayed a little bit in the US there is a fascinating blend of churches and even within doctrinally sound churches there are some odd ideas that float around. Thinking of one such an example this person appears to have a genuine faith but also thinks some nonsensical spiritual things are true. Instead of gently correcting her people were happy for her to believe this. Even with a sound foundation, some people add some un-Christian (or unbiblical) finishing touches appear – for want of a better term new age Christianity.
    However, the upside of this is that people are more open to talking about faith and the Gospel – which is a good thing. The area I lived in had quite a strong Catholic community. For such a small town there were dozens upon dozens of houses with Virgin Mary statues and other catholic decorations put all year round. A house down the road had a Catholic charity banner displayed in their garden. At Christmas time another house (no idea what denomination) had a huge sign in their garden that said Happy Birthday Jesus. Others had nativity scenes.
    I’d visited New York once and having arrived a bit late I overslept on the Sunday morning. In the evening I found Times Square Church had an outreach service. It was really busy. Great testimonies, passionate praise and a clear presentation of the Gospel.
    So there is definitely encouraging things happening but I think some “decent” churches are serving a good starter but not the main course. I also wish the prosperity movement would stop describing themselves as Christian.

  2. “the racism that was a major cause in the death of George Floyd”

    What hard evidence do you have that racism played any part at all in the apparent homicide of George Floyd, or was at least a significant part the motivation of that crime, committed by police officers? Everybody says so? It’s a well-known fact? The word on the streets? Or are you just jumping on the bandwagon of the simply awful Black Lives Matter agitator organisation, adopting uncritically, like the sheep who are demonstrating, the jaudiced and unsupportable spin that Black Lives Matters places on this brutal, idiotic and inexcusable apparent manslaughter or murder, of one nightclub bouncer by another (at the same nightclub!), whilst the victim was off duty, and the killer, the victim’s evening-job colleague, who was caught in the lethal act on video, was supposed to be doing his day job as a law-abiding, non-corrupt police officer?

    Do you have any evidence, rather than mere gossip and opinion, that racism was a cause, let alone a “major cause”, of the death of George Floyd? No you don’t, because there isn’t any such evidence.

  3. Beth Moore’s “remarkable” tweet is just another very ordinary statement proclaiming to have knowledge of something which – unless she is telling us she has been conversing with a god – she is in no position to have.

    American religious figures are very fond of making these sort of statements. It’s all white noise.

  4. Your talk of hegemony reminds me David of a polemic Norm Chomsky has written about the choice America has between hegemony or survival as he put it. “Are We Witnessing the End of the USA?” It’s a good question. Certainly if America carries on destroying itself then it’s not go much of a change for survival.

    It seems that fear and retribution of some form of another may have been taking an increasing grip in the States ever since 9/11.

    “Can the American Gospel save America?” No and neither can American freedom. American freedom is no freedom at all and the only gospel that matters is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    I see a lot of people slaves to fear and self righteous thinking and conduct of different races and political affiliations. Only when someone is free in Christ are they truly free.

  5. What is your source for the quote, “Why do I have to repent? Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if you’re not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honourable person…..I try to lead a life where I don’t have to ask God for forgiveness,” which is attributed to President Trump above?

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