From time to time over recent months I have sought an answer to this question: “How can any evangelical follower of Jesus Christ continue to support Donald Trump?” The responses have mainly come from non-evangelicals guessing at what evangelicals think. These second-hand opinions are little more than clues, and can only be taken seriously if they support what evangelicals themselves have to say. A few responders suggest that the only issues important to conservative Christians are abortion and homosexuality. While Trump may be committed to support those concerned about these issues, he has never been clear about where he stands. Vague as it is, his personal equivocation seems sufficient reason for many to support him.
A few of my evangelical critics hold that every negative thing said about Trump is fake news. That is the claim whether you are talking about moral issues, the border wall, his party’s tax policy that profits the already wealthy, or his alleged collusion with Russia in the run-up to the 2016 election. Supporters hold that this last issue is only a witch-hunt with no factual foundation.
It is a refreshing development, therefore, to come across a detailed — if somewhat ambiguous — answer to my question. I have recently received a copy of a speech by a serious scholar and devout Christian in which the author analyzes the relationship between evangelical faith and issues facing the nation. The speech was delivered by Dr. Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, to a group of evangelical leaders on April 16, 2018, at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary are both highly respected conservative educational institutions at the center of evangelical orthodoxy. While Dr. Labberton does not give an unequivocal or simplistic answer to my question, it seems clear that in his carefully crafted answer he draws a conclusion you may discover between the lines.
Dr. Labberton’s life, faith and commitments are clearly a response to Jesus’ commission to his disciples that they are to “make disciples of all the nations.” The Lordship of Christ and his saving work lie at the core of Dr. Labberton’s faith and his understanding of the world which is the locus of the commission. While Labberton is not primarily concerned with politics or matters flowing from the present inter-party debates, neither is he unaware of the clear relationship between Christ’s saving work and the world to which his disciples are called. Nevertheless, no one needs to guess about the implications of a faithful relationship between the Christian evangel and the world in which it is proclaimed.
Having taken seriously what this dedicated evangelical leader has said, I will spend the next two columns looking at the content of this address. If you are interested in seeing the full text of the address, contact me by e-mail and I will forward it to you.