Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Cult of Christian Trumpism
by Michael Horton
On Saturday, December 12, a bizarre rally was held on the Washington Mall. Shofars were blown. A flyover from Marine One was cheered by shouts of praise to the Messiah (evidently distinguished from Jesus). My Pillow founder Mike Lindell shared prophetic visions of Donald Trump. Beth Moore sounded the alarm, and David French offered wise analysis. Rod Dreher, who just published a book decrying left-wing totalitarianism, wrote that he “began to think that all of this is the right-wing Christian version of Critical Race Theory, and various doctrines held by the woke Left.” Dreher was struck by how enthusiastically evangelicals seemed to participate in the inter-religious festivities. An American-born Israeli man received permission from his Orthodox rabbi to break Shabbat to blow his shofar and another, red-white-and-blue-decorated “Trump Shofar.” Roman Catholic representatives invoked the Virgin Mary and the saints. Don’t evangelicals reject worship of anyone other than the Triune God—and even the intercession of Mary and the saints? “But maybe common love for Trump overtakes these theological convictions,” Dreher wrote. My response is: What theological convictions? Idolatry has taken precedence over theology. At the same time, there is a theological heart to Christian Trumpism. Please note that I am not talking about voting for President Trump or one’s appraisal of the election’s outcome. Equally sincere Christians may be divided over these matters, which is why the Lord gave us Christian freedom to vote our conscience. Further, I’ve said quite a lot over the past several decades in criticism of those on the left (as well as the right) for trying to make Jesus a mascot in the culture wars. My public calling is not to bind Christian consciences to my own political positions. Rather, as a minister of the Word, I am joining others in sounding the alarm that a line has been crossed into rank spiritual adultery.
Wakeup CallFor many of us, it’s easy to recognize the assimilation of Christian faith to cultural and political progressivism. But it’s time for all of us—finally—to take the log out of our own eye. The “Jericho March” was a blip in the news cycle, but maybe it can be a wakeup call for Christ’s body. What we’re witnessing on the national stage right now is disgraceful. In fact, the only word for it is blasphemy—the sacrilege not of secularists marching on Washington to take away religious freedom but of evangelicals marching on Washington to perpetuate a cult. We might have ignored this as a spectacle, a performance by a handful of voices in opposition to the Constitutional system of our republic. But I feel conscience-bound as a minister of the Word to warn against what can only be considered a heresy—indeed, a cult within a certain segment of evangelicalism. It has arisen over many decades and will no doubt be around for many more to come. While worrying about secularists outside, many of us have failed to reckon with the secularization right under our noses, as the rich cuisine of biblical faith is traded for a mess of pop-culture stew. This idolatry inhibits the church’s work of evangelism in myriad ways. Internally, it turns the saving gospel into worldly power; externally, the hypocrisy of some evangelicals has been exposed to a cynical and watching world. “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Rom. 2:23–24). I don’t know the demographic size of this movement, but it seems to represent the confluence of three trends that have seethed independently until converging, especially in the neo-Pentecostal movement that traditionally has not been identified with evangelicalism per se. These three trends are (1) Christian Americanism, (2) end-times conspiracy, and (3) the prosperity gospel.
1. Christian AmericanismChristian Americanism is the narrative that God specially called the United States into being as an extraordinary—verging on miraculous—providence. Passages from the election of Israel in the old covenant are lifted out of context and applied to America. The better “lights” among the founding fathers (such as James Madison) made the case for a non-sectarian Constitution—a distinction based partly on sound Christian convictions. For example, in the new covenant there is no “holy nation” in the geopolitical sense. Rather, Christ has established a universal kingdom, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth by his gospel. This kingdom consists of those gathered around “the Lamb who was slain” and “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” to be “a kingdom and priests to our God” (Rev. 5:9, 12). This “good news” is not moral improvement or a Christian society or any political system—whether democratic or totalitarian, capitalist or socialist. It’s the announcement that in his incarnation, obedient life, sacrificial death, and resurrection Jesus Christ has accomplished redemption from sin, death, and hell and reconciled sinners with God. Justification—this declaration that sinners are right with God solely on the basis of Christ’s merits—is received through faith in Christ alone, not by our works. Therefore, this saving response to Christ, which itself is a gift of God’s grace, must be offered freely, without coercion. Yet in scrambling for political privilege, the church loses confidence in the Spirit’s power working through this gospel and communicates to the world that it requires worldly supports for its success. As the nation’s religious diversity expands, its long history of civil religion—once secured by a core of often-vague Protestantism—widens to include any and all who share the real faith of many today (on the left and the right): a political agenda. The spiritual syncretism exhibited in the Jericho March illustrates a deeper phenomenon at work in a segment of American evangelicalism. Whatever inconsistencies have marked American religious history, the separation of church from political privilege has resulted not from a creeping humanism but from the best instincts of Bible-believing Christians. On biblical grounds alone, then, this ideal—of a “Christian nation” other than the universal church; of the gospel as a social, moral, or political agenda; and of saving faith as something that can be legislated and enforced—must be rejected.
2. End-Times ConspiracyGrowing up in conservative evangelicalism during the 1970s and ’80s, I experienced the anxiety of possibly being “left behind.” Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth topped the bestseller list. Behind its science-fiction interpretation of biblical prophecy was a Manichean dualism between “the planet Earth” and “Heaven” to which the remnant of truly godly (and clued-in) believers would be raptured. Henry Kissinger, the pope, or a Communist world leader would become the Antichrist; then the world would be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust, Armageddon. These were not possible speculations, but absolute certainties, and they were often more riveting than “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Wedded comfortably to the John Birch Society, this rendition of the end times prepared us for the imminent rise of the Common Market countries and the consolidation of the United Nations (to undermine U.S. sovereignty). The true Christians were on earth only to witness to everyone about the coming calamity so that they, too, could be raptured. The United States was represented as Israel’s only savior. About this time, Hal Lindsey and other non-Pentecostal end-times commentators took their shows on the road, gaining prominence on TV programs such as The PTL Club (Jim and Tammy Bakker) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (Paul and Jan Crouch). Meanwhile, Robert Schuller and his Hour of Power was uniting the “positive thinking” psychology of his mentor, Norman Vincent Peale, to the “prosperity gospel” that dominated PTL, TBN, and other neo-Pentecostal enterprises. In all this focus on Christ’s dramatic return, the finished work of Christ on the cross was eclipsed in many evangelical imaginations.
3. Prosperity GospelThe common source of both Peale’s cult of success and the health-and-wealth gospel is the mind-science movement of the 19th century. To errors (1) and (2) above, these neo-Pentecostals contributed a hyperexperiential spirituality based on speaking in tongues and routine claims of direct revelations from God. It’s a view well exhibited by Eric Metaxas’s comment about the Jericho March founder’s vision: “When God gives you a vision, you don’t need to know anything else.” Christians traditionally believe we should not expect God to speak outside his revealed Word, which has reached its fulfillment and therefore completion in Christ. Yes, Scripture often requires interpretation, sometimes even healthy debate, for us to agree on its meaning. However, to those who expect their self-appointed apostles to provide more scintillating and relevant wisdom than, say, Isaiah, Romans, or the Gospel of John, not even the Bible contains a sufficiently authoritative rebuke. If you’re already predisposed to believing whatever a ringleader says, then the assertion of divine fiat keeps you from having to argue about it. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” becomes no longer a prophecy of Christ but of the leader who invokes it. That’s what turns a heresy into a cult. Blend these three ingredients––with a generous dose of hucksterism, self-promotion, and personality cult—and it’s not surprising that we have the cult of Christian Trumpism. Though it has nothing to do with serious politics or serious Christianity, it’s the culmination of many decades of exploiting both. And the end result is a dangerous enthusiasm that opposes both.
Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism. This article by Michael Horton was originbally posted in The Gospel Coalition (TGC) DECEMBER 16, 2020, A fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.