While You're Eviscerating Dobson, Don't Over Look the Real Problem – Evangelical Soteriology
“He did accept a relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ, and that’s fairly recent … I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian.” – James Dobson
Explaining away the vile, self-aggrandizing, penitent-less, sulfured stench wafting off the vapid moral character of the Republican presidential nominee, James Dobson explained that Donald Trump was a “baby Christian.” He explained that Trump “doesn’t know our language” and “didn’t grow up like we did” and therefore everyone should “cut him some slack.”
Perhaps the Focus on the Family founder was speaking of Trump’s explicit denial of ever having asked forgiveness. Perhaps Dobson was speaking of Trump’s attempt to soften the criticism regarding his verbal denial of repentance, claiming that taking communion is kind of like asking for forgiveness (it is, right?). Perhaps Dobson was speaking of Trump’s citations of “Two Corinthians.” Perhaps Dobson was speaking of Trump’s name-dropping of Positive Confession guru, Norman Vincent Peale, as his primary spiritual mentor. Maybe Dobson was speaking of Trump’s braggadocious, prideful embrace of a lifetime of adultery, whore mongering, greed, lying, bullying and blasphemy.
All of those may partially be implied, but Dobson was speaking of Trump’s failure – when speaking to leading evangelicals – to use terms like Jesus, prayer, Christianity, forgiveness, repentance, sin, Gospel, or other terms unique to the Christian faith. He did talk about the validity of religion, in general. As others pointed out Trump seemed like an agnostic duck out of Christian water, Dobson interjected that he knows the guy who led Trump to “accept a relationship with Christ.” It was recent, claims Dobson, but he believes based upon testimony that Trump has been born again.
Maybe Dobson’s source is somebody in the room of prosperity charismatics who laid hands on him and anointed him along with Robert Jeffress, Paula White, Mike Murdock or David Jeremiah. Perhaps it was Ronnie Floyd or another Sinners’ Prayer warrior who met with Trump, who asked Trump to ask Jesus into his heart and received a tacit affirmation. One thing is sure; there are enough photographs of Trump awkwardly standing with his eyes half open while eager evangelical shoulder-rubbers have their hands on him in fervent, excitable prayer that it would be hard to imagine Trump not repeating the superstitious, ostensibly salvific mantra at some point in time. It would be hard to imagine Trump not being “born again” again and again and again over the course of this presidential campaign.
Polemic coverage on this story is both welcome and necessary, but most discerning souls have chosen to provide vocal rejections to the absurdity of a supposed Trump conversion, which is altogether as likely as Paula White’s charismatic tongue speaking being much more than gobbledegook. Somewhere in a gated, upscale subdivision in Nashville, Russell Moore is having an aneurism from the mere insanity of a Trump conversion claim. And this would be one time Moore would be right. It is silly. Somebody out there may know this one guy whose neighbor’s brother once had a stirring conversation on the importance of animal welfare at a Humane Society event with Michael Vick, but the subject’s behavior might make us doubt the narrative or at least his sincerity.
Other discerners have objected on the merits that this is clearly an example of selling out convictions for the sake of politics. It would be hard to argue otherwise. As this polemicist has argued since the beginning of this election cycle (and not just with Trump, but similarly with Carson and Rubio), evangelicals believe in Justification by Faith Alone only unless it’s election season, and then we practice Justification by Presidential Primary, when all one has to do to be heralded as born again is be on the Republican ticket and invoke God in Iowa. Those same evangelicals lecturing all the others on why Trump isn’t a Christian just because he believes in gun rights (cue Russell Moore) were some of the same ones calling a Roman Catholic and Adventist “evangelicals” because they sound Christiany. Forgive my incredulity on that one.
While those two polemical criticisms are altogether valid, there’s another angle of this publicly displayed spiritual debauchery of Dobson that should be marked and cautioned. The issue is bigger than just a billionaire with a sinful bravado who may be executing the most expensive and longest lasting practical joke in history. The issue is the fundamental depravity of the Sinner’s Prayer methodology that is pervasive in evangelicalism. Indeed, that is the real culprit in this story, more so than Dobson’s political religiosity. Dobson, I suggest, is thoroughly convinced that Trump is born again. I don’t believe the good doctor is trolling us. I believe evangelicalism in general is to blame for this flapdoodle.
You hear the Sinners Prayer mythodology in Dobson’s language. He says that Trump “accepted” a “relationship with Christ.” Of course, these are code words for the sacred cow that plagues our soteriology. Jesus never asked for Trump’s or anyone else’s “acceptance.” Jesus was not trying to get hired as Trump’s new apprentice. Furthermore, being born again is not tantamount to having a “relationship with Jesus.” Pilate had a relationship with Jesus. Judas had a relationship with Jesus. The Pharisees had a relationship with Jesus. I’m pretty sure Donald Trump has always had a relationship with Jesus. The question is exactly what kind of relationship the man has had with Jesus, and that it evident in his lifetime of breathing out murderous threats against anything holy or with a common sense of decency. We see the Decisional Regeneration theology in Dobson’s claim that Trump made a “commitment.” Trump has made a lot of commitments in his life. Just ask his ex-wives. These terms amount to nothing, mean nothing, and are as shaky as the legitimate chances of a Trump presidency.
Claiming that Trump doesn’t understand concepts like forgiveness and repentance and Gospel because he’s a “baby Christian” begs the question of how in the world Trump ever became a Christian in the first place without having a basic understanding of those concepts. The fact is, Dobson’s soteriology doesn’t require knowledge or even acknowledgment of these terms which are, biblically, prerequisites to justification. No one is arguing it takes an ThD to be born again. We would argue that it takes acknowledgment of sin and faith (and therefore basic understanding) of the Gospel. Trump has demonstrated neither.
So while we discerning souls are busy eye-rolling Dobson to the point of getting vertigo, remember that Dobson’s declaration of Trump’s salvation is only a symptom. The problem is a theological misunderstanding regarding regeneration that has invaded evangelicalism worse than illegal immigrants over the Mexican border.
We should put up a wall. Maybe deport some evangelicals. Don’t know.