I read this book in my continuing quest to understand the 2016 US presidential election. Fea is an evangelical Christian historian. His book helped me understand how Trump convinced evangelicals he was a Christian, despite his many blunders and reports of sexual assault. Trump's immorality was ignored because he had the right policy proposals. Evangelicals were grasping political power and Trump seemed to be the answer.
This action was not something new. Fea says the election was “the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life.” (6) He says the idea to “win back” and “restore the culture” was based on a faulty foundation, longing for something that did not exist in the first place.
Fear is what was driving the evangelicals, Fea argues. “The various fears that combined to drive white evangelical Christians into the arms of Donald Trump have deep roots in American history.” (112-113) He explains why evangelical Christians were so afraid, reviewing the social and cultural changes that have occurred from the Puritans to the Obama administration. He introduces readers to the many religious leaders who were seeking political power and entered Trump's inner circle. Fea also writes about Christian nostalgia and Christians trying to reclaim something that will never come back.
I really appreciated Fea's insights into what seems to be a last-ditch attempt to win the culture wars. (180) Fea wonders what might happen if evangelicals replace fear with hope. He wonders how evangelical politics might change if the pursuit of power is replaced with the cultivation of humility. He also wonders what might happen if evangelicals replace nostalgia with history. (182)
This book is a good one for evangelicals to read to understand what happened in the last several years and why. I know God has promised that He will work His purposes to good. I find hope and trust in that promise.
You can watch an interview with the author here.
My rating: 4/5 stars.
John Fea is professor of American history and chair of the history department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His previous books include Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction, and he blogs regularly at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
Eerdmans, 248 pages.