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Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump Hardcover – 28 June 2018
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From the Publisher
Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
About John Fea
John Fea is professor of American history and chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He is a self-described evangelical, a recognized expert on the historical influence of evangelicalism in American culture, and an award-winning author.
An evangelical historian's critical take on the 2016 election
In Believe Me, John Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past.
As insightful as it is timely, Fea’s Believe Me challenges Christians to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.
- Examines evangelical motivations for supporting Donald Trump
- Explores the moral reasoning of conservative evangelicals
- Identifies how the influence of key leaders led to an embrace of Trump
- Available in Print, Kindle, and Audible formats
Praise for Believe Me
“For those who think the embrace of Trump by the ‘court evangelicals’ might be an example of yielding to the political temptation that Jesus resisted (Matt. 4:8–10), this is the book to read. Noted evangelical historian John Fea provides a thoughtful and engaging account and critique of how this unlikely alliance came to be.”
“It would be enough for John Fea to marshal his considerable prowess as a historian in proving how evangelicals have been propelled by fear, nostalgia, and the pursuit of power, as he does so compellingly in this book. But he also speaks here as a theologian and an evangelical himself, eloquently pointing toward a better gospel way. This is a call to action for evangelicals to move beyond the politics of fear to become a ‘faithful presence’ in a changing world.”
“While the significant support for Donald Trump by white evangelicals has been the stuff of headlines, there has been little serious probing of the deeper factors at work. John Fea here gives us what we need, with his insightful tracing of the theological-spiritual road that has brought us to this point. A wise and important book!”
“John Fea’s timely and sobering book shows convincingly how legitimate concerns from white evangelical Protestants about a rapidly secularizing American culture metastasized into a fear-driven brew of half-truths, fanciful nostalgia, misplaced Christian nationalism, ethical hypocrisy, and political naiveté-precisely, that is, the mix that led so many white evangelicals not only to cast their votes for Donald Trump but also to regard him as a literal godsend.”
-- author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
"John Fea's timely and sobering book shows convincingly how legitimate concerns from white evangelical Protestants about a rapidly secularizing American culture metastasized into a fear-driven brew of half-truths, fanciful nostalgia, misplaced Christian nationalism, ethical hypocrisy, and political naiveté--precisely, that is, the mix that led so many white evangelicals not only to cast their votes for Donald Trump but also to regard him as a literal godsend." Jana Riess
-- senior columnist for Religion News Service
"It would be enough for John Fea to marshal his considerable prowess as a historian in proving how evangelicals have been propelled by fear, nostalgia, and the pursuit of power, as he does so compellingly in this book. But he also speaks here as a theologian and an evangelical himself, eloquently pointing toward a better gospel way. This is a call to action for evangelicals to move beyond the politics of fear to become a 'faithful presence' in a changing world." Michael Wear
-- author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America
"In Believe Me John Fea takes evangelicalism seriously, treating it with the honest respect it deserves. He also manages to help us understand American politics in a much clearer way. I highly recommend this book to all who remain confounded by the state of faith and politics today." Richard Mouw
-- author of Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World
"While the significant support for Donald Trump by white evangelicals has been the stuff of headlines, there has been little serious probing of the deeper factors at work. John Fea here gives us what we need, with his insightful tracing of the theological-spiritual road that has brought us to this point. A wise and important book!" George Marsden
-- author of Religion and American Culture: A Brief History and Jonathan Edwards: A Life
"For those who think the embrace of Trump by the 'court evangelicals' might be an example of yielding to the political temptation that Jesus resisted (Matt. 4:8-10), this is the book to read. Noted evangelical historian John Fea provides a thoughtful and engaging account and critique of how this unlikely alliance came to be." Publishers Weekly (STARRED review)
"Clear, concise, and convincing. . . . Fea uses his training as a historian to trace a chronology of the evangelical attraction to political power . . . and offers an alternative way (relying on hope and humility) for evangelical leaders to think about their relation to power." Foreword Reviews
"Enlightening. . . . Meticulously researched and grounded in historical and theological contexts. . . . An important book for anyone, Christian or otherwise, who wishes to understand the 2016 election and who believes that we can do better." Salon
About the Author
- Publisher : Eerdmans Publishing (28 June 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 248 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0802876412
- ISBN-13 : 978-0802876416
- Dimensions : 13.72 x 2.54 x 21.84 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 386,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from other countries
The ends do not justify the means. Fear and selfishness blinds. Foreigner bashing does not sit comfortably with Biblical Christianity...always leads to needless insanity.
The author comes to his subject with equal surprise at the outcome of the USA 2016 elections while sitting in his own congregation. Long may the truth speakers live and last.
Definitely worth a read if only to be better prepared next time and learn the lessons of history.
I bought this book on the belief that it was a balanced approach to help evangelicals like me deal with the bi-polar Trump presidency. I think many of us have questions like…
“How can I reject President Trump’s Junior High name calling, and yet support his Supreme Court picks?” Or, “How can I reject Trump’s exaggerations and past womanizing and yet support his economic policies?” It seems if you say anything positive about Trump, half the world goes nuts believing you are now a flat-earther—and if you say anything negative, the other side of the world now knows you are a socialist.
This book was absolutely no help.
If I understand author John Fea correctly, he sees the evangelical road to helping to elect Donald Trump as paved with fear—fear of the media, of Hillary, of a nation that evangelicals no longer recognize. Fair enough. But, when Trump was elected Fea says, “I was shocked. I was saddened. I was angry.” P. 6 Fea seems to be writing from and having voted from a fear as great as any he is describing in others. That didn’t help either.
The warnings and examples of the seductiveness of political power was well done, especially on page 149. I loved his quote from Henri Nouwen, “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” The emphasis that Jesus is the Messiah, not Washington comes through wonderfully—as does the church’s poor witness when we look to Washington as our Savior.
Fea becomes Trump.
One of my problems with President Trump is his overstatements, exaggerations, even lies, whatever you want to call them. I believe Fea is guilty of the same. Here are some examples.
1: Trump Bad. Hillary Good.
Fea spends plenty of time describing Trump’s failings. Of course, there are plenty, his immorality, crude talk, lies, exaggerations, even his lack of biblical knowledge or credibility. But when he finally gets to describing the other choice in the election, He describes Hillary Clinton as, “a devout mainline Methodist,” with “far more experience than Trump,” with a, “position of paid leave that would have strengthened families,” with “a humane immigration policy,” someone who has, “defended the rights of women, children, the poor and people of color.”
Say what? And this is supposed to be a balanced book, written by a historian? Can’t we at least admit that both candidates were flawed and neither choice was easy for any Christian?
I don’t think the women kidnapped and/or killed by Boko Haram as she worked to keep them off the U.S. terrorist watch list would see Hillary as defending their rights. I don’t think the unborn children being killed in the womb would see Hillary as defending their rights either. I just returned from my annual trip to Haiti, and rightly or wrongly, they see the Clintons as stealing much of what was given to them after the earthquake (so far the have received around 13cents on the dollar). Last I checked, Haitians were, “people of color”
I’m not trying to be anti-Hillary here, I’m just saying the author gave her strong points while leaving out her weak ones, and visa-versa for Trump. I bought the book to know how to deal as a Christian with this weird Trump presidency, not to be sold Democratic talking points about how Hillary was the Messiah and we Christians missed the boat.
2: Name Calling
Chapter three is called, “A Short History of Evangelical Fear.” Fea lied. It’s NOT short. And when his conclusion on page 112 lists the likes of Reuben Torrey, Arno Gaebelein, and C.I. Scofield, among others as “fear-mongers” building ‘fundamentalist empires,” with the “iron hand of biblical truth,” I believe Fea is guilty of the same type of name-calling as is Trump. At least Fea didn’t tweet it.
On p.123 Fea states that, “Robert Jeffress, Richard Land, Gary Bauer, and James Dobson have devoted their careers to endorsing political candidates and Supreme Court justices…”
Robert James Jeffress Jr. is an American Southern Baptist pastor, author, Trump supporter, radio and television host. I don’t know much about Robert Jeffress except that he is first known as being the pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas. I’m guessing he has devoted his career to teaching and encouraging those who come to his church through the Word of God. James Dobson was president of Focus on the Family. I was on their website just this week, and they still focus on the family. There were tons of issues are there and I didn’t see one about picking people for the next presidential election. Again, this is Fea becoming like Trump. Did they endorse presidents? Absolutely. Did they devote their careers to it? Absolutely not.
I currently volunteer for a pregnancy center. The center I volunteer for has an ultra-sound machine that was paid for, in large part, by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. And it didn’t help get anyone elected.
P. 39 “Conservative evangelicals and other pro-life advocates spend billions of dollars to get the right candidates elected because they believe that the Supreme Court is the only way to solve the problem of abortion in our society.”
Not true. This is another Trump-style exaggeration.
I have no idea how much evangelicals give to candidates or to help in court elections. I wouldn’t even know how to do the latter. For me, I’ve never given anything to a candidate. I don’t know if Fae knows either, as he didn’t give ANY proof for his “billions of dollars” estimate. So, that I can’t prove or disprove, but I know of NO conservative evangelical, and I know of plenty, that believes candidates or courts are the only way to solve the abortion problem. Every evangelical I know believes that this is a problem of the heart, not the government. The belief in total depravity and redemption through Christ alone is what makes us evangelical.
On pages 139 – 140 Fea quotes theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Trian who offer another approach to the pro-life cause. They suggest, “servicing at abuse centers or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with under-resourced families or apprenticing men into fatherhood”—and the list goes on. But, we ARE doing just that. The Church I am a part of works alongside our Care Net center and others. We share our wealth, I have spoken at local junior highs, high schools, and community colleges, we provide Christmas gifts for under-resourced families, prenatal care, and meals for new mothers in the Care Net center. We have an earn-while-you-learn program for new moms and dads, and we continue to help up to 3 years after the baby is born or adopted. Wake up Fae, Haurwas and Trian, the church has been and continues to be on this offensive in the battle for the unborn. Maybe it’s time you joined us.
But we must also play defense, and that happens in the court.
Change the focus to another crime, for illustration. Let’s say rape became legal in the United States. Should the church then serve abused women, and teach students and share our wealth and apprentice men into fatherhood? Of course, and as that results in people coming to Christ, that is the offensive arm of the church. But, would it not also be right before God, for the good of women, society, and our country, to vote for people who wanted to outlaw rape?
4: Make America Great Again
Chapter 5: Make America Great Again, was a bizarre waste of a chapter. I felt like Fea took a campaign motto and made it into a manifesto, creating a straw-man he could blow down.
It starts by spending half the chapter trying to show that we are not now nor have we ever been a Christian Nation (of course that depends on your definition), but then admits this isn’t something Trump talks about anyway. So, why was it in the book?
But the big question in the chapter to Fea seems to be, “what time is Trump referring to when he says he wants to ‘Make America Great Again?’” He then picks different times loosely derived from different Trump speeches (the time of Andrew Jackson, Richard Nixon, etc) to show that bad things happened during those times.
News flash: Make America Great Again is a MOTTO. That is why Trump doesn’t say what time he is referring to—so that people will look back at what they believe to be a better time and hope that Trump will bring it back. For one person it may be when Detroit made cars, for another when taxes were lower, for another when abortion was illegal.
Fea could have done the same thing with Obama’s motto, “Yes We Can.” Yes we can… what? Fix health care or murder the unborn? Reduce racism or increase violence against police? Yes We Can was an excellent motto, with a similar appeal as Make America Great Again. One looks forward and one looks back, but both are ambiguous and appeal to the desire within us to make our country better—and either one can be torn down as a straw man proving nothing.
The last chapter starts with this sentence. “The evangelical road to Donald Trump has been marked by the politics of fear, power, and nostalgia.” Of course, every campaign has, but that is only part of the story.
It’s also true that the evangelical road to Donald Trump was much the same as the rest of America’s road to Donald Trump. The road was paved by an American distaste for politics as usual in DC, and a democratic candidate so tarnished by past scandals she needed insider help to beat Bernie Sanders. That’s what elected Trump.
But I still don’t know what to do about it.
In Believe Me, Fea explores Donald Trump's popularity among American evangelicals--81% of them anyway. Along the way, he addresses the inconsistencies that many conservative religious leaders have demonstrated over time in their responses to different presidents, Clinton and Trump, for example, giving an unlimited pass to one while wanting to burn the other at the stake. Fea shared this example from a 1998 letter from James Dobson (a Trump supporter) questioning Clinton's morality: "As it turns out character DOES matter. You can't run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don't respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the book of James, the question is posed 'Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?' (James 3:11, NIVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available)). The answer is no." In my opinion, those who fail to see the hypocrisy in this statement are blind.
When Fea wrote of "the evangelical politics of fear," I resonated with the phrase. I think he is right when he suggests that fear drives many of the political viewpoints and voting practices among evangelicals. We place our hope not in God, the All-Sovereign, but in compromised earthly powers, especially those who tell us what to be afraid of and how they are the only ones who can fix it. The fear-mongering is reminiscent of Richard Dreyfuss's Senator Rumson in 1995's The American President. I was grateful that Fea is a historian; he was able to trace the roots of these fears to the 17th century up into the 21st century, with particular attention to the civil rights movement.
His thoughts on Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again," were also beneficial. He commented that as a historian, he was less interested in the definition of great than what Trump means by the word again. To what era is Trump referring? And from whose perspective? It remains nebulous. Fea rightly draws the distinction between history and nostalgia, noting that "nostalgia is closely related to fear." Fea writes, "Sometimes evangelicals will seek refuge from change in a Christian past that never existed in the first place. At other times they will try to travel back to a Christian past that did exist--but, like the present, was compromised by sin."
In his conclusion, Fea calls evangelicals to three things: hope, not fear; humilty, not power; and history, not nostaligia.
I found Believe Me to be an insightful, timely book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Unfortunately, I suspect most of the 81% will not even consider reading it; it's something that Trump would quickly dismiss as "fake news." As Americans, we tend to prefer political propaganda propagated by Twitter, Facebook, and our preferred news networks than actually digging in, with humility, to consider what might be true. As Christians, whose primary citizenship is in an eternal kingdom, we cannot afford to do this any longer.
I cannot think of a better way to conclude this book than with the quote that first intrigued me: "The Court Evangelicals have decided that what Donald Trump can give them is more valuable than the damage their Christian witness will suffer because of their association with the president."
This is a really important book. Believe me.
It’s tough to argue against Fea’s criticisms, especially if “evangelical” is taken to broadly include anyone who claims the label. And, unfortunately, that’s the same broad definition used by U.S. media. Fea does rightly acknowledge that this definition swells “evangelical” ranks to include the hordes of people who identify themselves as evangelical, without knowing or having experienced what the label even means. But a true evangelical, whose life has been changed by the reality of the living Jesus Christ, may bristle at this book for two reasons: 1) some of Fea’s characterizations and conclusions don’t fit true evangelical Christians, and 2) some of them do – and boy, does that hurt.
Fea makes some powerful statements that ring true. He recalls Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson’s revelations in “Blinded by Might” (published in 2000) of their own hard-learned lessons about the folly of reliance upon “the right politicians” to win the “culture wars.” In fact, Fea’s work might be viewed as an update on Thomas and Dobson’s thesis in light of the 2016 election. Fea also gives us mostly-accurate historical background regarding evangelical Christian involvement in U.S. politics dating to colonial times. But parse facts from opinions carefully; Fea is often overly zealous in leading us into his generalized condemnations of evangelical Christian involvement in U.S. politics, and beware of a few key mis-statements he makes regarding the true intentions of the Founding Fathers.
For example, Fea provides this un-footnoted observation as though it is fact: “Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, for example, were strong advocates for the complete separation of church and state.” This is an opinion at best. It would not withstand cross-examination by other historians such as American University’s Dr. Daniel Dreisbach, who in “Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation between Church and State” (2002) presents careful research of Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists and of Jefferson’s other writings, speeches and voting record in the Virginia Assembly before his presidency. Dreisbach shows us that Jefferson viewed church and state as separate partners who conversed and cooperated over a fence as neighbors seeking the same common good. Fea’s mischaracterization of Jeffersonian thought is truly regrettable, especially for a learned historian who identifies himself as an evangelical.
Fea carefully constructs a case that the U.S.’s 45th president used phrases such as “make America great again” and “I’m the law and order candidate” to signal Caucasian voters who view their race as superior to others, that he’s their man. He makes this case well; this conclusion by itself is believable. But he extrapolates too much, leading his readers to his own apparent conclusion that our current head of state is himself a white supremacist. Inflammatory? Manipulative? Clumsy, as evidenced by his completely blown opportunity to come out against hate groups in the wake of the Charlottesville violence? Absolutely! A more rotten performance among any U.S. president ever is hard to find. But truly a racist at heart? Perhaps naively, or just slower to judge, I want more freedom to wrestle with that than Fea will give me. Character assassination is a hard business, and Fea should have avoided going there.
On the other hand, Fea’s applications of Scripture in his appeals for Christians to reconsider their over-reliance on politics to renew the culture, are as solid as anything you might get from the very best conservative (theologically, not politically) preachers that 2 millennia of Christianity has produced. That reality, plus the many truly insightful (if sometimes overly generalized, overly hyped) criticisms of how U.S. Christians have wrongly looked for their savior to rise up from the political system, makes this book an important read.
Fea gives a very fast sketch of the politics of fear, along with the theology of fear, that has formed the evangelical movement and brings us to WHY 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016.
But Fea also offers some ideas for a way forward. Things to DISCUSS. (It's hopeful that discussion could ensue, though doubtful.) We need to move from fear to hope, from power grabbing to humility, and from nostalgia to a true sense of history.
These past two years have left me with a bad taste in my mouth over what has happened to the American conservative church. Fea sets some context for us and tries to wake us up to some harsh realities.
This is good analysis and then a prescription for a possible way forward... believe me.