Bad Theology and the Rise of Donald Trump

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The ascension of Donald Trump reveals the need for robust and correct theology within American evangelicalism. For too long, a large number of Christians in this country have attached themselves to the jingoistic mantra of God and country. Worse, many Christians reverse the already faulty belief and allow their ethics to be shaped by Country and god. The embrace of Trump is the shameful result.

To be fair, this does not characterize every Christian who is planning on voting for Trump. For some, their decision to hold their nose and vote for Trump is the result of an internal rationalization that I can empathize with while still disagreeing with the conclusion. For example, I have friends who believe that the tiny chance that Trump will actually appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court makes it worth voting for such a despicable human being. And many of them use the descriptor “despicable” when talking about their decision.

However, there is a very large block of professing Christians who embrace Trump as the savior of America. Whenever they speak or write about Trump, I frequently notice two main theological errors. 1. A lack of understanding or acceptance of God’s full sovereignty, and 2. The conflation of the Old Testament nation of Israel with America – specifically in regards to the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament.

For two centuries, much of American evangelicalism has been held captive by the individualistic religion of men like Charles Finney. Among other aberrant ways, this individualism is worked out in a softening of God’s total sovereignty (if not a flat-out rejection of God’s sovereignty). Many Christians in this country believe that God is dependent on them. Sure, they depend on God for the big things that require miracles, but when it comes to day to day stuff, God is sitting in heaven, wringing his hands in dismay at what’s happening to America, and hoping that Christians will take action.

Of course, in their minds, God is dismayed because America was supposed to be a Christian nation that enjoys the blessings promised to the Israelites. Promises like the one found in II Chronicles 7:14 that if God’s people humble themselves before God and reject wickedness, God will “heal their land.”

Throughout the Old Testament, especially the Prophets, the refrain is repeated that the blessings of God are dependent on the obedience of Israel. But, throughout those promises there is a growing hint that God is talking about a redeemer. A single Redeemer.

Unless God’s law is written on the hearts of his people, obedience is impossible. And the sacrificial system was a proxy for the real sacrifice that would finally and fully heal the people of God of their sins. The nation of Israel was pointing towards the new Covenant which was inaugurated by Jesus Christ, the true Israel. All of God’s promises are realized in and through Jesus. Further, the Church, being in Christ, will be the recipient of the promises of God when Jesus returns to finally and fully set up God’s Kingdom on the new earth. America, as a nation, has nothing to do with any of that.

If anything, American Christians embracing and supporting a man like Donald Trump are repeating some of the sins of the Old Testament Israelites.

In Isaiah 30, speaking through the prophet, God warns those “who carry out a plan but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt … to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt.”

Like the ancient Israelites, many professing Christians are proving that they trust the might of a sinful man over the sovereignty of God. They are demonstrating that for the sake of promised comfort and ease, they’ll align themselves with an individual who is explicitly in opposition against God. Christians have not been called to make America great; Christians have been called to advance the Kingdom of God by preaching the gospel. Reducing the promises of God to nationalism perverts the Gospel of Jesus Christ and undermines American churches’ ability to point unbelievers to Jesus.

And like the ancient Israelites, many American Christians fail to realize that God is utterly sovereign over everything. One of the main thematic elements in the book of Isaiah is God’s control over what was happening. Donald Trump is viewed by many of his Christian supporters as the last hope for this country—as if God is out of options if Trump isn’t elected (and that’s setting aside the fact that Donald Trump is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to begin with).

God doesn’t need nor does he want humans to succumb to pragmatism in order to fix things for themselves. God wants his people to pursue holiness and the spread of his kingdom for his glory. Embracing and defending Donald Trump for the sake of America betrays the sad reality that many Christians in America have a faulty view of God and what it means to be a child of God.