Earlier this week, Wayne Grudem endorsed Donald Trump. You may be thinking, “Big deal. I bet a lot of people named Wayne endorsed Donald Trump.” But Wayne Grudem is different. He’s the author of the systematic theology book used by more evangelical seminaries than any other. It’s currently listed as the #1 bestselling Protestant theology book on Amazon.com, and the #1 bestselling systematic theology book. Grudem has been influential among evangelicals for decades now; his writing and teaching form the intellectual backbone of many pastors’ and writers’ theologies.
His article, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice” feels to many of my fellow evangelicals as a betrayal. Though it was scarcely surprising that public evangelicals like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham—whose names are bigger than their influence—supported Trump, it hurts to see
Grudem on Team Donald. It hurts especially because he has nothing to gain from this endorsement, he just did it because he believes in it. Somehow that’s scarier than Christian leaders trying to gain worldly influence (for the gospel, of course) by kowtowing to a demagogue. Grudem endorsed Trump not as a career move, but because this “morally good choice” follows from his theology. And when that theology is in the backpacks of hundreds of thousands of seminarians, it should serve as a wake-up call to evangelicals.
An episode from history comes to mind. In October of 1914, ninety-three prominent intellectuals signed a document expressing support for the German invasion of Belgium. Karl Barth was horrified to find that several of his theology professors had signed this manifesto. This shook Barth to his core. If their theology was so weak that it buckled under the pressure of German militarism and nationalism, he reasoned, there is something fundamentally wrong with the version of Christianity he had been taught. Their signing the document was, to borrow an old saying, like the thirteenth chime of the clock—it is not only wrong in itself, but it raises doubts about all the previous ones. Karl Barth would go on to reconsider the very foundations of liberal theology and to champion a faith in Jesus robust enough to resist capitulation to ideology.
When Wayne Grudem says, “The most likely result of voting for Trump is that he will govern the way he promises to do, bringing much good to the nation,” and backs it up chapter-and-verse, this should make us reconsider the foundations of American evangelical theology. We should not merely be asking, “How should we vote this election?” but “How did we get here?” One advantage of the Trump candidacy is that the discrepancy between contemporary Republican priorities and the Christian gospel is starker than ever before. The Trump campaign has promoted a message of regression, lies, and death that is blatantly incompatible with the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The contrast is too obvious to ignore, and the distressing lengths to which Grudem has to go to justify his “moral choice” only serve to prove it.
Conservative evangelicals are realizing that we have been conned for years; this campaign is not only wrong in itself, but it raises doubts about the previous ones. Let’s not let those doubts settle after this election. Let’s not just repudiate Donald Trump’s campaign—as many lifelong Republicans are doing—let’s reevaluate the theology that has for years been distorted, deceived, and defiled by its identification with a political agenda now culminating in Trump's rhetoric. Let’s follow Karl Barth’s example in rediscovering a faith strong enough to resist the fears and prejudices of our time. And whichever theology books may be topping bestseller lists in years to come, let’s follow Barth’s advice and think with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.