Is Evangelicalism Afflicted with Its Own Form of Trump Derangement Syndrome?

Aug 19, 2022 by David Fowler

Is Evangelicalism Afflicted with Its Own Form of Trump Derangement Syndrome?
Even before Liz Cheney’s drubbing this week, former president Donald Trump’s continuing influence in the Republican party was clear. I have given much thought to why Trump seems to be such a clear dividing line in politics generally and even among persons who would otherwise consider themselves all to be evangelicals. This is my thesis: Those who so enthusiastically embrace and hate Mr. Trump share the same fundamental belief as to how the world works. That belief, I believe, is the product of Enlightenment thinking and, if my thesis is correct, is an indictment of evangelicalism.

Enlightenment Thinking and What It Necessarily Produces

Enlightenment thinkers thought we could remove God from the material world or, we might say, the “secular world,” yet retain the individual and societal values, along with the new law structures, produced by the Papal Revolution of the Eleventh Century, Lutheran revolution in Germany in the 16th Century, and Puritan revolution in England in the 17th Century. [i]
Moreover, the God the Enlightenment thinkers wanted to remove from the equation (shared by both Catholics and Protestants) is both transcendent (different in essence, meaning ontologically) and immanent (always present and always acting). The “world and all things in it” (Psalm 2:4) are His, and He is mirrored to some degree in every part of it (See Romans 1:20). 
Therefore, when transcendence, immanence, or both are lost (i.e., denied), the world necessarily falls apart.

How Enlightenment Thinking Transformed Politics

Enlightenment thinking removed the existence of any transcendent authority from the governance of the world. Moreover, God’s work in the world (immanence) was replaced by a new kind of "natural" law, a mechanical law of mere cause and effect.  In principle, an objectively ethical universe that functions and is judged by God in the course of history according to those objective ethics no longer exists.
What naturally takes the place of this God is raw power constrained by nothing but a mechanical law of cause and effect. 
In this world without the God of the Bible, those who accumulate enough power can manipulate the laws of cause and effect to bring about the world-order they want to achieve. They, by their power, not God by His word, give the world meaning.
For example, this is the basis for the transgender movement and the same-sex “family.” In both situations an objectively real organic unity that has a given and fixed transcendent meaning, the former regarding the body and the latter regarding human relationships, does not exist. The loss of political power means the potential loss of their world. It produces what has been called Trump Derangement Syndrome.

How This Relates to Donald Trump

I believe Donald Trump represents the pervasiveness of Enlightenment thinking in society.
With Trump’s election, political conservatives thought they had attained a power by which they could direct the world (the future) according to their thinking. 
With his defeat, political liberals thought they could get back the power by which they had previously been directing the world (the future) according to their thinking.
In sum, the world of politics for both camps has been reduced to power and who can get it. No wonder God, who has ordered the universe to work according to His covenant purposes (creation) and moment-by-moment makes sure that it does (providence), laughs (Psalm 2:4).

Trump and the State of Evangelicalism

But what does God think when so many of those who claim to be His people are so adamant about having a Donald Trump in the place of power or despondent or angry when he is not since He is to be the beginning, middle, and end of their every thought, including those pertaining to politics (Romans 11:36; 2 Corinthians 10:5)?
Who do these evangelicals think Trump and Trump-endorsed politicians are? And why do so many evangelicals seem to think our country’s direction for good or ill rises and falls on who is elected?
I am not saying that God does not care about public policy or care about who holds office, but I increasingly think that something is off when large numbers of evangelicals look with such fervor to Donald Trump and Trump-endorsed candidates to get America “back” on the “right track.” 
Is America not on the track that accords with God’s eternal purposes and providence? If not, did God somehow lose control of things and when? Did liberal politicians wrest it from Him?
“Salvation belongs to God” (Psalm 3:8, Revelation 7:10), and I have this terrible sense that too many evangelicals think salvation, at least in the “secular world,” can be found in another—those who hold political office with its supposed power. 
Trump just may be a telltale sign that Enlightenment thinking has infiltrated the political thinking of many evangelicals. If so, it is a Trump Derangement Syndrome of a different kind. And maybe the “track” evangelicals find America on is God’s way of curing them of their own form of "enlightened” derangement.
[i] To understand the influence of these revolutions on the creation of the Western Legal Tradition, listen to the August 11th episode of God, Law & Liberty

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006.

Subscribe to Email Updates


Donate to FACT

Make a Donation