The book Jesus and John Wayne has been the topic of immense discussion over the past few months. The subtitle of the book captures the key idea developed by Kristin Kobes Du Mez: "How white evangelicals corrupted a faith and fractured a nation." She argues that the election of Trump was not an aberration, but the natural result of certain militant, patriarchal views adopted by evangelicals. Is she right? Is she wrong? In this discussion, Sean and Scott highlight some positives of the book (and areas evangelicals need to take seriously), but they also raise some cautions and areas of disagreement with her key premise.








Episode Transcript

Scott Rae: Hey, welcome to our conversation today with Sean and me. We don't have a particular guest in mind though, we are going to talk about a controversial and provocative new book that's getting a lot of traction in circles, not in evangelical Christian circles, but in broader cultural circles as well. The book is titled very provocatively Jesus and John Wayne. And the subtitle I think is particularly revealing How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. The author's Kristin Kobes Du Mez, she's a historian at Calvin University. She's widely published, has written a number of other things having to do with women and the gospel. And has published in a variety of national publications as well. She's a very respected historian, but has come out with a very controversial topic that we want to explore, we want to see, we want to look both at the merits and the demerits of the book and take an honest and we hope fair assessment of it to recognize this contributions, what she got right and where we would take issue with it.

Scott Rae: So Sean, really delighted to be able to talk about this just together with the two of us. So maybe the first thing that we want to talk about was how should we approach such a controversial book like this? Because there are a couple different ways to look at this and I want to make sure that we're reading this through the right set of lenses.

Sean McDowell: This is a great question. I can just tell you how I approach a book like this. The title is Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. In other words, the reason the faith is corrupted religiously and the nation is fractured is because of white evangelicals. I'm looking at this going, I'm a white evangelical, right. Now, Kristin Du Mez, who's the author, actually, I heard in a different interview, said that she grew up in a tradition church that she's not evangelical and almost had a sense of disdain against evangelicals, that word might be too strong, I don't want to put that on her.

Scott Rae: So disaffected evangelical would be a fair term for it.

Sean McDowell: I don't know if it's disaffected, I think it was just a tradition that saw evangelicals differently and a very kind of an intellectual tradition is where she came from. But she says she grew up in kind of the evangelical subculture with the speakers and books and products and is well aware of it. Well, I am a white evangelical. So when I pick up a book like this is just human nature to get defensive. So what I try to do as well as I can is to resist some of that and say, okay, can I humble myself? Is there areas where my people have gone wrong? What do we need to learn?

Sean McDowell: And I've certainly found that people outside of our group, whether it's religiously or faith will notice things that we may not. So for those watching this who might be evangelicals or white, let's not get defensive. Let's read a book like this and ask ourselves, what can we learn from this and get better? I think that's the first step.

Scott Rae: I think it's probably helpful to know that she's not talking specifically about Scott Rae and Sean McDowell, or any of our listeners personally or individually.

Sean McDowell: No, but she does mention my dad.

Scott Rae: But she's talking about our tribe.

Sean McDowell: Yes. Our tribe and my father is mentioned there, so there's a level of it being personal, even that I have to read and go, okay, she making a fair critique. I think we just, we have to approach it that way to be scholars to grow, human nature is just to get defensive, but you're right, it's not about you and me in particular, viewers may actually be evangelicals, but disagree with much of how other evangelicals see things.

Scott Rae: Right. And I think as long as our doctrine of sin is what it is, nobody's exempt from admitting their faults.

Sean McDowell: Fair enough.

Scott Rae: Admitting places where they are broken and recognizing that we all have things to learn, we never get exempt from having things to learn. But I think we also need to be fair and to point out the places where we think she's missed the mark, which there's more than a handful of those places too.

Sean McDowell: There are. I think there's positive in this book that I think evangelicals and other Christians need to take seriously. She has diagnosed some serious issues we need to put attention to, but as we'll get to, I think there's some areas of concern. The other way of approaching this is when I look at a subtile and I know authors don't come up with subtitles and even titles sometimes, this is how white evangelicals corrupted a faith and fractured a nation. We live in a moment where everything is seen through the lens of race. Now, sometimes it's positive because we haven't seen racial elements that are there and we need to see them, other times race is brought in and made the primary issue when people like Thomas, Saul and others would say, "I'm not sure that's all that's going on."

Sean McDowell: So when I see a subtitle like this, I immediately think this tells us about the wider culture that we live in, there's an audience automatically built in when you blame whites who are in power, evangelicals, a part of the Christian tradition who are seemingly in power. It tells us something about the cultural moment that we find ourselves.

Scott Rae: Well, and it also may tell us a little bit about the ideology from which the author is coming.

Sean McDowell: Good.

Scott Rae: And we'll see as we get into that, how prevalent that turns out to be. So for the sake of our audience here, who likely is not familiar with the book yet, and we would encourage you to read it. We'd encourage you to read it and to learn from it. But to read it through a set of critical lenses as well, not taking everything in there as gospel truth. In fact, I hope you don't read anything that you read as gospel truth other than the Old and New Testament. So let's just briefly summarize for our audience, what the book's about and what you think the author's trying to accomplish.

Sean McDowell: So Kristin Du Mez is a professor of history at Calvin University. So the book is taking a historical look at these issues, that's her expertise.

Scott Rae: And it starts early on, it starts back in the 1920s.

Sean McDowell: I mean, it's over 300 pages and she's a great historian, she's a great writer. I've heard her interview, such just a pleasant, thoughtful person. It's clear that she's writing this because she wants to call the church back to faithfulness as the way that she sees it. But she's writing from a historical angle, not primarily theological, not primarily sociological, it's a historical analysis of the past 100 years or so that culminates in the election of the presidency of Donald Trump.

Sean McDowell: So the premise, she starts out really quickly and describes. She asks a question that I think it's a great question. She says, how could family values Conservatives support a man namely Trump who floated every value they insisted they held dear? So historically speaking, how do many evangelicals come to support this man Trump, who in her mind, and she fills in some of the details here about him being anti-immigration, nationalist, racist, sexist, that's the lens through which she understands him. I'm not saying whether he is or whether he's not, but this is how Trump is painted in the book.

Sean McDowell: And the question is, how do evangelical support him? So she says this, and I think this is really interesting. She says, on page three at the bottom, she says, "It was rather, this was not an aberration that evangelicals support Trump, nor was it merely a pragmatic choice. It was, rather the culmination of evangelicals' embrace of militant masculinity, an ideology that enshrines patriarchal authority and condones the callous display of power at home and abroad." So in other words, evangelicals have adopted a certain view of masculinity, a certain view of a fear-based approach to culture, where we want these heroes to come in and save us, whether it's John Wayne.

Scott Rae: Like John Wayne.

Sean McDowell: John Wayne is a classic example.

Scott Rae: And it's even extended to our foreign policy.

Sean McDowell: Foreign policy on every angle. And a couple, one of the things she says, I think will help as we come back to this, is she makes a quick distinction. She says, for example, in Sunday schools and vacation Bible schools, boys learn to be superheroes for Christ, girls to be beautiful princesses. In church youth groups, boys trained to use guns and bows, girls to apply makeup, shop and to decorate cakes. And so she says the next page, for many evangelicals, the masculine values men like John Wayne, William Wallace from Braveheart played by Mel Gibson, Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump embody have come to define evangelicalism itself. That's the premise of the book. And she explores it historically.

Scott Rae: Now I will say, I'm glad she went back as far as she did, because there's a brief reference to the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.

Sean McDowell: There is, yes.

Scott Rae: In the early 1920s as resisting this politicization of Christian faith that she found so prevalent throughout the last 100 years, I found that kind of very interesting that the fundamentals, "that five volume series" came out of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, underscoring the importance of the mainstays, the main anchors of Christian faith, while at the same time, she recognized, and I think correctly so that it was designed, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, which now is of course Biola University, was designed to be this apolitical organization, institution that welcomed people from all races, ethnicities and political persuasions, because it was the gospel and the scriptures that were the central focus.

Sean McDowell: I think what's really interesting as I was trying... Oh, here it is.

Scott Rae: That was a shameless plug for Biola University.

Sean McDowell: Well, but what's fascinating is-

Scott Rae: But I think rightly so.

Sean McDowell: She critiques Christian nationalism a lot, which you and I actually would agree, maybe she has a different understanding of Christian nationalism is an unhealthy or unbiblically wedding of the nation of Israel and America is like the second coming of the nation of Israel, so to speak.

Scott Rae: That the United States is central to God's program in the way that Israel was.

Sean McDowell: Yes, that's a better way of putting it. And she cites Biola interestingly enough, who says, and she gives a quote in here that, let me see if I can read it here, where one of the King's Business's publication of Biola says, no, America's not a Christian nation because, "Such a nation does not exist on earth and never has existed and never will exist until the Lord comes again." So it actually was pushing back in the earlier part of the 20th century. So she's saying Biola was on the right side, but clearly things have shifted since that time over the last 8,100 years, so to speak.

Scott Rae: Which, and that view, of course clearly comes out of our eschatology, which we hold that the nation of Israel still has a place as God's chosen nation even in the present age. So no other nation enjoys those same privileges and prerogatives. And I think as we've pointed out before to wed the gospel to any kind of national agenda for any country, other than the prophesied nation of Israel, I think is going theologically off the rails.

Sean McDowell: I think that's right. And this may be getting ahead to some of our critique. We want to talk about positives first, but the point being there are a lot of strains and evangelicalism resisting a certain narrative that she's telling. And we're going to get to see those.

Scott Rae: I'm actually, I'm very proud of our founders.

Sean McDowell: Yeah, me too.

Scott Rae: For the stance they took and the openness with which they welcomed people from all backgrounds and all races and ethnicities while at the same time, maintaining the centrality of the gospel and biblical faithfulness. So let's, I think hopefully our audience is somewhat clear on what our author is up to and what she's trying to accomplish, it is a long historical stretch. So if you don't like reading history, we suggest that you cut to the conclusion, and just get to the point, the main things that she's trying to get across, but if you enjoy the historical sketch and the background granted it's through a unique set of lenses, you'll enjoy that part. I did. And they were helpful reminders of a lot of the tradition that formed the evangelical faith that you and I were brought up in.

Sean McDowell: I think this is a good place to start because there's some positives that come out of her book. And I had three as I read it, that I think even if somebody takes issue with her premise needs to take these very seriously. And one is in the area of gender stereotypes.

Scott Rae: Which means.

Sean McDowell: Well, we read earlier that you go in vacation Bible school, boys are taught to be warriors, girls are taught to be princesses.

Scott Rae: Maybe my church was not as evangelical as I thought it was.

Sean McDowell: Well, maybe not, but this is definitely a common theme. She gives enough examples. I don't think it's as wide spread as the only story in evangelicalism as she says that it is, but I think it's definitely present that is there without the nuance, there is no question about it.

Scott Rae: There are definitely certain segments for which that has been the case.

Sean McDowell: And the point is not that being a warrior, we want to say that's not manly. What we want to say is that's not the only way to express manhood because as you and I have talked about, as it comes to issues of sexuality and even the transgender issue that the church has bought certain stereotypes about masculinity. And what happens is when somebody is like, "Hey, I don't really want to go carry a sword, I want to cook. I want to sing the worship band." And this is a male, I want to do art, starts to feel like, well, maybe I'm not a male, I don't measure up to this stereotype. And it does do harm to people with gender dysphoria if that's the only story we tell without nuance.

Scott Rae: Or even people, as you mentioned, people without specifically gender dysphoria, but just people who don't, for whatever reason, don't fit that stereotype of what a "manly man" should be. And there are lots of, I mean, we have lots of kids who, they just, they do other things besides play sports. They do other things besides go hunting and fishing, they just do other things. And I think we have to look back at what's the scripture's picture of manliness and who are some of the heroes of the faith and what were they like? I mean, David was a warrior, that's true, but he was also a musician.

Sean McDowell: And poetry.

Scott Rae: And a poet and a deeply emotional person. I mean, for the idea that the manly man would not wear his emotions on his sleeves, David certainly disqualified from that, just read the Lament Songs.

Sean McDowell: He does.

Scott Rae: I mean, he's [crosstalk 00:16:41] all over the place.

Sean McDowell: So by the way, in audiences, I'll say I've done this dozens of times. Give an example of a manly man. Two first examples every time, David, Samson. I think one time somebody shouted out Jesus. Nobody has ever said Jacob. Let me take Jacob and Esau, I'll ask people who's more manly and they're like, "Esau hunted and he was hairy. Jacob was a homebody favored by his mom." Well, Jacob was the chosen one and there's no indication that one is more masculine than feminine. Now we can make a mistake by saying there's no differences between males and females and arguably no distinct roles. But the flip side is also to come up with these stereotypes.

Sean McDowell: And I think she fairly critiques in the church that we bought on these stereotypes namely John Wayne, I think she nails that and the church needs to make some changes. The other thing she brings up, and I especially want to know your thoughts on this, is she gives a lot of examples of well known influential evangelicals who were way too cozy with political rulers. Gives examples when I read some of these, I'm like, wow, this is arguably compromising principle for the sake of power and influence. And that's a dangerous, dangerous thing, especially when Jesus was so much about if you want to of follow me, the first shall be last, give up your life. So I think she's onto that. Do you think that's a significant issue as she mentions? What would you add to that piece?

Scott Rae: Well, the first thing I think our audience is going to think about in that is the friendship that Billy Graham had with virtually every president in his lifetime. And he had good relationships with them and you don't get the sense that he was courting any sort of political power, he was using that as an opportunity to advance the gospel. Now, she takes a little different take on that and that Graham is not quite as innocent about the power moves as I think some of us would like to think. But I mean, he was an equal opportunity Befriender of presidents.

Sean McDowell: That is very true.

Scott Rae: Both Democrats and Republican, he was respected by both parties. Even until later in life when he stopped appearing in public and.

Sean McDowell: But he's a lifelong registered Democrat, she pointed out, I didn't know that, which was so interesting to me. There's a million ways we could try to make sense of that.

Scott Rae: And we don't know what a lot of those private conversations were like between Graham and Richard Nixon, for example, or Graham and Ronald Reagan. Some of this, we just don't know the degree to which he functioned as a conscience for political leaders. Now, I do think there is merit to the idea that to advance a kingdom agenda at times in the minds of some folks required more political influence than I think we should have been comfortable with. Now I think we started in a good place because there are some things that I think are biblical moral positions that ought to be things that the law and public policy are concerned about.

Scott Rae: Now for example, I think the right to life of the unborn, I think is a fundamental civil rights issue that the law ought to be concerned about. So anytime we're involved in public policy, we're also suggesting that this is a place where the law ought to be involved. But with public policy, and this is where I think has been problematic is we bring the same sort of expectations that we have theologically for theological purity into the political realm, which is in the political realm is invariably something fundamentally different.

Scott Rae: The political arena is a place of negotiation and compromise and limited objectives. Our theological realm, not nearly so much. And for some, I think for some religious folks of all stripes who get involved in the political arena, they get caught off guard by that. And compromising the political arena is not a dirty word, it's an essential means of survival, which means if you opt for all of the pie, instead of some of it, you're probably going to get none of it.

Scott Rae: And so the idea that you would be content with a limited objective is par for the course in the political arena, but an athema in the theological one. And I think some of that has contributed to overreaching on the part of religious believers in the political arena, and also contributed to a disillusionment with the political, that's how I think we ought to approach it.

Sean McDowell: That's interesting. If I was going to sum up my concern, I think the church, we obviously have to have a pastoral voice, but have a prophetic voice. And the more the church cozies up to politicians on either side, you lose that prophetic voice. And I think she gives at least some sufficient example of ways where I look at this and I don't know all the details, maybe it's tailored in a certain way where some nuance is lost, but I look at that and I think, whether left or right, here's a theological leader allowing themselves to be used for a political platform, is that wise and are we losing a prophetic voice? That's at least a question we need to ask.

Scott Rae: No. And again, people of a number of religious stripes have raised the same question. I think you can say the same. I think she critiques this on the right, but I think you can make the same criticism on the left.

Sean McDowell: I agree.

Scott Rae: And that the prophetic voice of the left, which they pride themselves in is often compromised by the alignment with one political party's agenda. Now, I think we've got, this is where we have to remind our audience that no political platform is perfect. No political platform aligns point by point by point with biblical faithfulness. And there's a good reason for that. And that is because no political platform was written with that as the goal. That wasn't their purpose. Now, some parts of some platforms may have been written in order to win the support of a fairly sizable religious community of one stripe or another. And so the degree to which those religious groups allow themselves to be co-opted, I think is a valid point that I think she's justifiably critical of.

Sean McDowell: I think you're right that it goes both ways. I read this as an evangelical and one temptation is go yes, but the other side does it too, which is true within the Christian fold. But I also read and go, okay, are these fair examples? Do we need to not do this?

Scott Rae: But it's when you say the other side does it too.

Sean McDowell: Yes.

Scott Rae: Which I think turns that back upon ourselves to look more carefully at.

Sean McDowell: I think that's fair.

Scott Rae: I think there's a valid point to that. Now it wasn't that long ago that some of the folks who had cozied up to political leaders on the right expressed disillusionment with that too. I know Chuck Olson toward the end of his life, his last project had nothing to do with politics, it was all about ethics and morality. And I know some of the original spokespeople for the religious right in the moral majority became very disillusioned with politics. And I think they recognized that they had been used and co-opted in some unhealthy ways.

Sean McDowell: That's a great lesson that did not make it in this book unless I missed it. I think that's very fair. The other positive point before you raise some concerns is there's a huge section in the end of the book where there's a number of abuse cases. And she says, Christians evangelicals used to think this was a Catholic issue and then it came knocking at her own door and there's a lot of cases of abuse. And her premise, as I understand it, is there's something embedded within this evangelical white culture that tends to be complementarian that lends itself to that kind of abuse.

Sean McDowell: Is it theological? Is it in practice? What exactly is it without fully answering that question? She's unmistakably right that there have been a lot of cases of abuse within the evangelical culture. We can point fingers until we're blue in the face at Hollywood, Catholic Church, public schools, boy Scouts, you name the institution, but are we in that going, okay, yeah, we missed it and we got to get this right and learn some of these hard lessons, even if my takeaway might be different than what she suggests in the book.

Scott Rae: I mean, this is where I'm not sure her diagnosis is quite correct. Because I think she makes a theological diagnosis that I would put in a different place. Her diagnosis comes out, basically is that a lot of these abuses are a fallout of a complementarian view of gender roles.

Sean McDowell: Yes, that's right.

Scott Rae: Which for audiences that may not be familiar with that term, but we're basically saying is that there's a difference in roles and functions in both the church and the home between men and women and that there are certain leadership roles in the church that are reserved for men, namely elders, and there's the responsibility for male leadership in the home. Okay. Now again, how that cashes out in the home, and that can look wide variety of options for that. I think where she's missed it is, I would put it theologically in our doctrine of sin, which is the Genesis of this, because I think these are more about simple straightforward abuses of power and essentially narcissism run a muck in our churches. It's still a bit of a mystery to me how we can claim to worship a crucified savior and tolerate these kind of narcissistic impulses among our church leaders. That may have to be reserved for when we get to glory.

Sean McDowell: So clearly the abuse is not people saying let's go to Ephesians five and take seriously what scripture teaches about husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. That's not what's taking place here, rather your argument is, and I think it makes sense. There's narcissism, there's people who want power and are going to use scripture justification if at all and the abuse comes out of that core issue rather than the theology itself.

Scott Rae: Now let me, I mean, just to be clear about this, that's not to say that there aren't places where a complementarian theology has been misapplied. For example, we've often heard that people will extend that and claim that those role distinctions take place in all areas of culture, not just the church and the home, which is clearly an application that the scripture doesn't intend to make. It's also been, I think misunderstood with the sort of the notion that men are initiators and women are responders, which I think is a gross oversimplification and taught nowhere in the scripture in my view, which then women apply that to say, "Well, God must not be in favor of me having leadership positions in whatever, in my company or in whatever arena that I'm operating in."

Scott Rae: So I want to be careful that we don't give complementarianism a pass entirely on the way it's been misinterpreted. I'm not at all persuaded that that's the way it's taught, but I think that are some of the things that people take, those are takeaways that are not legitimate from that.

Sean McDowell: I think that's fair. It'd be fascinating to see studies about church abuse, spouse abuse, across different denominations, complementarian, egalitarian. And if your hypothesis is right, it wouldn't be that significant of a difference across them. I'd love to see those studies at some point. Nonetheless, these kinds of abuse in the church evangelicals need to take seriously. And anyone who puts a spotlight on that is raising important questions.

Scott Rae: And I think she rightly points out the coverups have been damaging too. We have to believe women don't bring these accusations lightly, and so dismissing them as frivolous or unfounded, I think is really a problem.

Sean McDowell: Let's get to some of the critique [crosstalk 00:30:50].

Scott Rae: We do have a lot to say that's critical of it too. So I know you have raised a criticism about the overtly political lenses through which she tends to view the historical record. So spell that out a little bit.

Sean McDowell: If you open up the book right away in the intro and right away in the premise, it's clear that Donald Trump is the foil. No question about that. So you look at the way he's described, the characters attributed to him are all negative, whether they're true or not, that's the lens through which he is viewed. And then at the end of the premise, after describing that he is nationalistic and militaristic and sexist et cetera, it says, hours after crossing the threshold of 270 electoral vote to secure his victory, president elect Joe Biden called on Americans to restore the soul of America. He called for unity for an end that demonization that pits fellow Americans as enemies.

Sean McDowell: Now, what's interesting to me is this is not said explicitly, it's cataloged or described as a historical look at evangelicals, but there's clearly a political aim here. You look at the way Conservatives and Republicans are consistently cast, Obama and Clinton and Biden consistently cast positively. Now my point here is not to say she's right or say she's wrong. I don't ever tell somebody how to vote, I have not taken a political position. If it was reverse, I would make the same critique. But I think anybody reading this shouldn't think here's a historian who's trying to just make sense of why evangelical seemly voted and got Trump into power. There's an underlying political agenda behind this and a political ideology that informs the whole thing.

Scott Rae: Well, she had an opportunity to be more even handed with-

Sean McDowell: I think so, too.

Scott Rae: And here's specifically what I mean is, I think there's a sort of pox on both your houses because there's hypocrisy on both sides of this because people on the left gave Bill Clinton a pass on his character flaws that led to his multiple affairs and were publicly very critical of Donald Trump for his character flaws because they favored Clinton's policies, which had a, especially starting out, had a very strong left leaning tilt. In the same way, folks on the right gave Donald Trump much the same pass on his character flaws because they liked the agenda and were in favor of the Supreme Court justices that he might appoint. So I think there's, if character matters, then it has to matter on both sides of the aisle. Which is-

Sean McDowell: Sorry, maybe be a critique would be, but one side didn't call themselves the religious right and the moral majority. So the power play was from one side, not the other. I can imagine somebody pushing back and saying that.

Scott Rae: Well, but Bill Clinton was not shy about his religious faith either, even though it was more mainly of denominational. I think he would not have identified as evangelical. But I think, everybody recognized that he had huge character flaws that led to his multiple infidelities. And his critics were, that was all that mattered, but his supporters were quite willing to overlook all of those, hold their nose and vote for him because of the policies he was advocating. My point is that that's precisely what happened on the right with the election of Donald Trump. I don't know if too many people on the right who were defending Donald Trump's character, rather the question was, how much do we defend his policies so we can hold our nose and vote for someone whose character we have problems with? So, I mean, it's exactly the same on both sides, in my view.

Sean McDowell: That's fair. So just to give specifics, when you cite Obama here in page 235, it says in response to some of the criticism he had been given, he gave one of the most powerful speeches of his career. He professed his unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. Obama's vow of love for country was enough for many Americans, but not for most evangelicals. Clinton was a devout Christian. She reminded Americans that they were great because they were good. And she urged them to summon the better angels of their nature. The fact that she read the same Bible didn't register for most evangelicals.

Sean McDowell: So just, if you're going to read this, clearly there's characterization on both sides and we're all tempted to do that. I'm sure I've done that. I catch myself describing Dawkins, who's an atheist. I'm like, well, he is an atheist and William and Craig is the greatest foster. I'm like, okay, that's biased. Like we're all tempted to do that. But it's in print and it just shows that there's a bias behind it. And it makes me wonder who exactly is the audience for this book? Because there's two audiences. She describes at the beginning a lot of people who started to hear her criticize white evangelical culture say, this is my story. They resonate with it.

Sean McDowell: So it makes me think it's more of a disenfranchised who has this beef against the evangelical culture or evangelical white culture to use this. Because I'm reading a book and I'm going, I grew up in the heart of the evangelical culture as much as anybody, I mean every camp. I mean, every conference. My dad's mentioned in the book, I know a ton of these people. And I'm looking at this going, she raises a fair concern, but that was decidedly not my experience. So she's trying to write this to actually persuade white evangelicals. You could take such a more charitable, nuanced approach to it that would just be more effective.

Scott Rae: Now you've mentioned that your dad was mentioned in relationship to an event in the 1970s that she pays a lot of attention to and you're suggesting misrepresents the thesis that she's trying to portray.

Sean McDowell: So I guess one of my differences with this is, I think anytime you have a premise, you have to take evidence that supports your premise and ignore those that don't or explain away the evidence that doesn't. And there's a lot of things she talks about. She talks about Oliver North and I'm like, okay, I remember that story, but I don't know the particulars. So I tried to take a few issues that I know and probe in deeper and see what we find. So there's this on page 47, it says, "Evangelical support for Nixon was manifest at Campus Crusades Explo '72." Now this is four years before I was born. But the point was, there was.

Scott Rae: Sorry. I had just graduated from high school.

Sean McDowell: I'm glad you said it, not me. It attracted 80,000 evangelical young people to Dallas' Cotton Bowl. And it's described how it's very supportive of the military and Nixon. And it says, on the next page, "The Alliance between the Republican party and evangelical Christians seemed secure." So last night at dinner, I was like, hey dad, you were on Crusade then, is this true? And he told me something, I didn't know. He goes, "Actually, it was my idea to come up with Explo '72." He's the one who had the idea and was the key promoter of this event. And Selma's ideas were carried out. He goes, "Son, I was there. Any political party in power would have been invited, Republican or Democrat because of the national prominence that was being drawn to the message." Now it's a fair question to ask, should an event like this have any political presence at all?

Sean McDowell: That's a fair question. But the point was, this is cast because Nixon was there as a distinctly pro Nixon event. But he told me last night, he goes, "If it was a democratic president would've been invited and people would've shown the respect and cheered from at an event like this, just like they did for Nixon." So I won't go into all of them. If there's a number of things that I read in this, and I just thought that it's being twisted, arguably, and I'm not going to say intentionally, but we all have an approach to this. And I just found it part of the story, but missing a lot of the ailments, it was very incomplete.

Scott Rae: Incomplete. One other part of this that I think is incomplete are the handful of places. And it's there in the beginning and it's also there at the end where she makes the claim, which I think is widely accepted as gospel truth. That 80% of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, turns out that's not quite the case, and it's a case of selective use of statistics. So spell out a little bit what more of the real thing is.

Sean McDowell: So I found it interesting that in the intro and the premise, she cites this statistic three times. And then two other times throughout the book. So clearly, this statistic is central in the story that she's telling, she says, on page, what is it? Roman numerals, 14, XIV. "Exit polls revealed that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump." Now she stated that clearly it's about exit polls. But the implication as this is stated is that it's the majority of evangelicals, a strong majority of evangelicals that support Trump and put him into office.

Sean McDowell: Well, there's a few blogs online, even a Christianity today article about this that challenges this 80% notion and says it's not quite complete, there's a lot more to this story. And one of the thing is, think about this. I wrote this down and make sure I got it right. It's 40% of those who characterize themselves as white evangelicals didn't vote at all, 40% didn't. So if you take the 40% who didn't vote, and according to this 80%, the 20% who voted but not for Trump, that actually means that 48% of self-identified white evangelicals voted for Trump. That means a majority of evangelicals did not vote for him. That doesn't tell the same story and have the same ring that you fractured a nation, and you corrupted a faith.

Sean McDowell: Now it's still a fair question. Why did so many people vote for Trump? That's a fair question. And I love that she raised it, but what everybody's hearing is 80% of you and you just pull it up. It's like Washington Post, all these news organizations use this kind of stat typically to castigate and criticize the white evangelical church. So the stat itself is not complete. The other part is like, what is an evangelical? What does it even mean?

Sean McDowell: Now, she does raise this in her book. She's like evangelicals understand theirselves theologically, but even evangelicals recognize that often times they have theological and biblical illiteracy. So there's a cultural understanding. So to her credit, she recognizes that the term evangelical is somewhat, it's ambiguous and not clear. Look, I've had a chance to be interviewed by New York Times and by CNN, by the religion correspondence, and at least in these two circumstances, it's very clear that they do not understand what an evangelical is even within the church. Most people don't understand.

Sean McDowell: So that's another piece of it that says, who are we talking about here? And then even on top of that, there's other things like, why did they vote for Trump? Now she gets into that in the book, but it's for a range of reasons, some economic, some pro-life, Supreme Court. But what I find is there's a lot of people who look at evangelicals who voted for Trump and they assume they voted for a certain reason and import a world view upon them rather than actually ask them. And the story is often very different. So at least five times in the book, three times in the premise is this stat shaping it. And if that's so central to the book and that stat is not as strong as it sounds, to me it questions the larger narrative.

Scott Rae: I think that calls some of the premise into question.

Sean McDowell: So at least the extent of the premise, it's part of the story, but it's cast as the whole story. And I don't think it's a whole story.

Scott Rae: So I mean, we would hold there are things that we need to pay attention to from this.

Sean McDowell: Absolutely.

Scott Rae: But there are things that we take issue with as well. Let's just sort of summarize sort of one last reflection on this. And what would you say to our audience if they end up watching this, and go out and pick up the book?

Sean McDowell: I would say read it with an open mind. Don't be unnecessarily defensive. Look for positive ways that the evangelical community needs to improve and get better with its use of power, its relationship to politics, what it communicates about gender, but be skeptical that what's painted as the whole story, there is another side to this that's left out. I mean, there's a Proverb, I think it's 18:20 that says the first to speak in court sounds right until the cross examination begins. And that should be the way you read any book. Like the Bereans in Act 17, they examine scripture daily.

Sean McDowell: So I thoroughly enjoyed reading this because I grew up in the evangelical church. I'm like, I remember promise keepers. I was a student at Biola and I went during that time. Like I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you want a longer book that has a historical approach and critiques evangelical culture that's well written, it's a book worth reading, but I think a lot is left out.

Scott Rae: We want to make sure that people don't draw conclusions based on an incomplete narrative. So thank you for joining us for this. We hope this has been a helpful conversation for you. We would commend the book to you, even though we take issue with it in a number of places, we think it's got some valuable contributions to make and we think you ought to read it, but just read it recognizing the lenses through which the author is viewing the subject.

Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith & Culture. The Think Biblically Podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and fully online, including our master's in Christian apologetics, where I teach classes on the resurrection, the problem of evil and beyond, now offered fully online. Visit biola.edu/talbot to learn more. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.