Scot McKnight May Be Right That Sean Hannity Is The Most Influential Evangelical but Why?

Posted: September 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

Scot McKnight is a professor of religion at North Park University and the wizard behind the curtain of the well-read blog “Jesus Creed.”  Scot claims to be an Anabaptist (who attends Willow Creek) and last week his Anabaptism reared its head in a post claiming that the most influential voice in evangelicalism is author and radio & tv personality Sean Hannity.

McKnight is upset by the “politicization” of the church via the influence of Fox News and challenges the church to return to the kingdom theology best encapsulated by the Sermon on the Mount.

I think Scot is being a bit simplistic.  Now, I am not trying to pick a fight with Dr. McKnight.  I visit his blog regularly and greatly appreciate his written work, especially his book “Jesus Creed.”  Moreover, I’m sure that he would agree that this is a complicated issue and his blog post is…well…a blog post!

That being said, let me push back a bit: First of all, I believe that the reason politics evokes such passion among Christ followers is that the church has done a poor job of presenting the Gospel and its day-to-day relevance; Second, I don’t think you can avoid “politicizing” the faith in a diverse democratic-republic; and, third, I don’t think you necessarily should. 

First, too many churches almost ignore the Gospel in favor of sermons and programs designed to grant participants their “best life now”(i.e., 12 steps to raising godly teens and 4 steps to a better career…I’ve actually seen variations of both of these!) or they preach the Gospel but never bring it down to planet earth (think Dutch Reformed).  Thus, politics is often viewed as just another variant of the “best life now” method or, worse, as something with depth by the former crowd while the latter view engagement in public policy as something they can grasp, has tangible results and is exciting.

Second, you cannot avoid politicizing the faith in a democratic-republic.  The culture we live in is a political culture because we are all encouraged to participate.  It is odd that the power and influence of politics is ignored by so many “missional” church leaders when they fully embrace pop culture for the same reason.

Third, the church shouldn’t avoid “politicizing” of the faith.  To begin with, N.T. Wright has rightly pointed out, the idea of separation of church and state would have been an alien idea to the authors of Scripture.  Paul did not hesitate to evoke his rights as a Roman citizen, which were limited to due process. 

But what about the Sermon on the Mount?

I think Augustine was right.  The sermon easily applies to our individual lives but not to the roles of nations as a whole.  If all of Scripture is inspired (and I believe it is) then one has to play the Sermon on the Mount against huge swaths of God’s Word to see it as a guideposts for governments rather than individual followers of Christ when they face hardship.

But shouldn’t the Sermon on the Mount guide voters to support government initiatives that benefit the poor? Maybe.

The Acton Institute has presented sobering studies demonstrating the failure of government programs to alleviate poverty.  Government has taken the place of the role of the father in inner cities and has encouraged Christians to ignore helping the poor directly as they cede the role to heartless bureacracies.  

But what about partisanship? If Christians embrace the free market as a better alternative to large government programs along with support for pre-born children and marriage than doesn’t this lead the church into the arms of the Republican Party? Thus, creating a partisan church?

Not necessarily.  Now, I don’t think Christians should be blamed for the Democratic Party’s refusal to tolerate dissent on issues of abortion and marriage.  However, I’m not convinced that the leadership of the Republican Party really cares about social issues anyway.

William Wilberforce refused to join a party.  He was an avowed independent to the day he died and perhaps Christians should take note.

Now, I agree that Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, etc. present a vague civil religion that seeks to unite Mormons, Catholics, protestants, etc. under a vague notion of “God” but that doesn’t mean that these commentators are all wrong and I have seen too many bloggers simply dismiss them out of hand.

Yes, these commentators have a good bit of influence but, having grown up in a large conservative, “politically active church”, I can testify that THE most influential person in a church, at least a healthy one, is the teaching pastor of that church. 

I grew up in a church that preached the Gospel AND spoke prophetically about abortion, marriage and the historic dangers of large governments to liberty AND fed every needy person who walked in the door (as well as regularly winterizing the homes of the poor [even though we were opposed by the local governments who took budget cuts for having few needy homes on file!] and caring for single parents by providing free school supplies, free dental cleanings and oil changes, etc.). 

In fact, as D.A. Carson has stated, studies demonstrate that conservatives, who watch Beck, Hannity, etc., are more likely to volunteer to help the poor than those who don’t!  

Certainly, the church needs to a better job of preaching the Gospel (every week!) and then demonstrating its day-to-day relevance and emerging voices like Bishop Harry Jackson need to work with commentators like Beck and Hannity to present a more nuanced vision but it is a mistake to ignore public policy for, as N.T. Wright is fond of quoting, Jesus is either Lord of all of not Lord at all!


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