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Interview: From Jonathan Edwards to Jerry Falwell

Pulitzer Prize–winner Frances FitzGerald looks at the long history behind evangelical political activism.

There’s a familiar story about evangelical political activism that begins with the 1960s. The country’s mores were changing rapidly, and evangelicals, alarmed by a retreat from traditional values, awoke from decades of political slumber and charged back into the arena, launching the Christian Right movement that rippled through American society. Or so the story goes.

But for Frances FitzGerald—a journalist, historian, and author of books on the Vietnam War, the Reagan era, and other major chapters of American history—the real story begins at least a century earlier. Her latest book, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Simon & Schuster) hearkens back to the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries to find the reforming impulse that drew conservative Christians (and their progressive brethren) into the public square. Heath W. Carter, author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago and the coeditor of Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism, spoke with FitzGerald about her observations on evangelicals and American politics.

How did you become interested in evangelicalism?

It was partly by accident. I was teaching in Lynchburg, Virginia, when a professor pointed me toward Jerry Falwell’s church. He was, at that time, starting the Moral Majority, so I stayed and wrote a piece about him for The New Yorker. I’ve been writing about evangelicals, off and on, ever since—to a greater extent during the administration of George W. Bush, when they came to the fore.

After all that reporting, I felt there was no way for non-evangelicals or secular people to understand evangelicals without understanding their history and without ...

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Pew: What Christians Worry About Most

How five religious groups rank seven bad scenarios.

President Donald Trump might do better to focus on fixing health care instead of tackling terrorism.

The white evangelicals who largely voted for him are more worried about their health than about terrorism or gun violence, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Among self-identified white evangelicals, 75 percent worry about a personal health crisis, while only 66 percent worry about being the victim of a terrorist attack and only 38 percent worry about being the victim of a mass shooting.

In fact, 26 percent worry “a lot” about their health, compared to only 15 percent who worry a lot about terrorism and just 5 percent who worry a lot about mass shootings.

The questions about worries were broken out for CT by Pew as part of its in-depth study on firearms. (Yesterday, CT examined who loves God and guns.)

White evangelicals are more concerned about health than any of the other six problems posed by Pew, including not being able to pay bills, losing a job, having their home invaded, or being the victim of a violent crime.

But they still aren’t as worried about a health crisis as other major religious groups, including Catholics (90%), black Protestants (88%), white mainline Protestants (86%), and the religiously unaffiliated or “nones” (84%).

Americans who attend religious services weekly are just as worried (76%) about their health, while those who attend less often are even more concerned (86%). Americans with low levels of religious commitment—measured by weekly church attendance, daily prayer, saying religion is very important in their lives, and believing in God with absolute certainty—are more likely to worry about their health (85%) than those with high levels of ...

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Caste Aside: India’s New President Has ‘No Room for Christians’

Church leaders believe Hindu nationalism will outweigh the Dalit leader’s lower-caste loyalties.

Ram Nath Kovind, India’s new president who took office today, represents an unusual case of a little-known politician from the country’s lowest caste, the Dalits, rising to power.

However, as others champion his victory, India’s Christian minority—the majority of whom are Dalits themselves—know that a Hindu nationalist politician from the Dalit caste is still a Hindu nationalist politician.

Like the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that nominated him, Kovind represents a continued threat to non-Hindus in India, including its estimated 25 million to 60 million Christians. (As CT has noted, that’s a tiny minority amid 1 billion Hindus, but still sizable enough to rank among the 25 countries with the most Christians, surpassing “Christian countries” such as Uganda and Greece.)

If Indian officials were to move forward with anti-conversion legislation or other policies directed at Christians, “he would be a good rubber stamp for the government,” said Sandeep Kumar, a church planter and principal of Mission India Bible College, in an interview with CT. “There is no room for Christians in his understanding.”

Since 2014, India has been led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a BJP leader notorious among Christians for permitting religious freedom violations to spread unchecked. Meanwhile, the position of president is mostly ceremonial and selected by lawmakers.

Kovind’s election this month indicates that the BJP is gaining support among Dalits (once called “untouchables”) with its polarizing vision of India as a nation whose religion, language, and culture is solely Hindu, an ideology known as Hindutva that originated among the higher castes.

When ...

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Died: Haddon Robinson, Champion of Biblical Preaching

The seminarian who taught and inspired decades of expositors ‘goes home to God.’

Haddon Robinson, the respected author and seminary president who set the standard for expositional preaching, died Saturday. He was 86.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Robinson served as an interim president and professor of preaching, broke the news of his passing and posted a tribute this weekend. Robinson also taught at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and was president of Denver Seminary.

In his books, classes, and radio instruction, Robinson taught that sermons should be guided by the biblical text and focus on one idea or theme.

Christianity Today featured Robinson—formerly the senior editor of a fellow CT site, PreachingToday.com—in a 2002 article on the neglected craft of expository preaching:

Robinson has been teaching students about expository preaching for decades. His classic (and recently updated) tome Biblical Preaching, which is used in more than 150 seminaries and Bible colleges, has become the go-to text for aspiring expositors.

“The number of preachers who really begin with the text and let it govern the sermon is relatively small,” laments Robinson. “Today, the danger is that some preachers will read the latest psychology book into the text. They're not driven by a great theology but, instead, by the social sciences.”

In addition to Biblical Preaching, Robinson wrote more than a dozen books on the topic and regularly taught through radio ministries Discover the Word and Our Daily Bread. He warned preachers about veering into heresy with biblical application; distracting the congregation with sermon illustrations; or ostracizing parts of the audience with tone.

Among many striking quotes about preaching, Robinson had said, “There are no great preachers, ...

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