Scot McKnight is a well-known Anglican Bible scholar with a large following across all Christianity. In a viral essay, he says that American Evangelicals can’t be seen as Christian.
What’s called the ‘American church’, he suggests, has drifted so far away from the faith that they aren’t in it. He argues: “Evangelicalism Needs to Get Saved.”
Ismael Paramo on Unsplash
McKnight studies Evangelical history.
It’s a set of narratives, he finds, that are “unbearably narrow and biased.” Really, it’s just a set of fictions sold by people who were servants of “power, nearly all of it white power.”
Those are fighting words. But he presses on.
The story Evangelicals like to tell is that their religion is rooted in the Reformation, born in the fire of Martin Luther pounding his ‘95 theses’ on the wall of a Catholic church in 1517.
But American Evangelicalism, McKnight says, has little connection to the Protestant tradition. Is it Protestant at all?
If so, it exists very uneasily with denominations like ‘Lutheran’ and ‘Pentecostal’—for only Evangelicalism is so deeply tied to a long, bitter effort to acquire political power.
Evangelicalism claims to be the history of Protestants in America.
But the history they tell, McKnight says, is highly censorious. Clearly, he writes, it “ignores the African American church (the Black church) and the Latin American church (the Brown church)…”
The ‘history’, he adds, ignores Asian Christians, and Mexican Christians.
And women. Women were often present in ‘historic’ Evangelical scenes, but even here they’re erased.
And it’s a history that totally ignores slaves.
The Africans brought to America who often turned to Christianity for solace from their Christian masters. Were the slaves—so often sexually used, beaten, killed—not the ‘real’ Christians?
But Evangelicalism does not seem to include their stories either.
And so it is not really “Christian history.”
It is not, that is, a story of Christian people.
The history the religion wants to tell, McKnight concludes, is “tied to culture and not just Bible and theology.” And what seems to have mattered to that faith, finally, was power — white, and male.
Evangelicalism, finally, is not an effort that traces to Martin Luther, much less to Jesus. It’s simply a mode of politics by another name.
And that’s not Christian.
Scot McKnight at Tabor College (2017)
The Evangelical story is a lot of white guys who weren’t too “godly.”
It’s a story, McKnight finds, that was written not with facts, but by strict attention to who was in power—and the need to flatter and protect them.
“In most of those cases the churches and pastors huddled together, spun a story, protected the church, blockaded themselves behind power, and pounced on their critics.”
When Evangelicals faced facts they didn’t like, he says, “they have resorted to spin.”
When uncomfortable facts come to light, he says, like in history books they don’t like, they move instinctively to attack the critic. “They make false allegations about these authors,” he says.
Whistleblowers “get stiffed.”
It becomes then a story of a religion that is telling lies.
Even as the religion seems a prompt to come face to face with the truth, what they actually deliver is a false front, a claim to a religious aspiration they do not actually embody.
Why is the history so contrived? Because Evangelicals do not want to confess what the ‘religion’ has actually done, and what it’s about.
“Those who are calling people to confess their sins and trust in God’s gracious forgiveness, the essence of the evangelical gospel, are the very ones who are afraid to confess the sins of their precious historiography and movement.”
The religion moves to lock down on attacks, and devote itself to white male power. But this is not Christianity.
We turn to religion to leave a life of lies.
The situation of Evangelicalism now, McKnight writes, reminds of of what Christianity is for—to turn away from a life of sin.
The effort is to be new, to break from history.
And this is what Evangelicalism needs. He concludes with an altar call to the religion itself:
“Evangelicalism needs to get saved.
Come. Just as you are. The Lamb of God is waiting for you to come to him. Please come.”
And I was stirred by these words!
But somehow McKnight had managed to avoid the key obsession of the Evangelical world: the war on LGBT people.
But then, Scot McKnight has been a part of that effort.
He last came up on this blog for using his scholarly reputation to dismiss a biography that clearly established Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian hero, had been quietly gay.
But few Christians—including McKnight—seem to be able to envision a religion that doesn’t say: ‘I’m good because someone else is bad.’
Maybe religion could be—being a better you?
I’d offer McKnight the same altar call he offered Evangelicals.
Let all the hatred stop. Jesus is waiting. 🔶