In 1993, Os Guinness wrote a wonderful little book entitled Dining with the Devil. The subtitle was The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity. Guinness pointed out how the megachurch movement was borrowing tools, insights, and strategies from the modern management, business, and marketing world to “reach” people. It was a sort of Babylonian captivity. What these churches often thought were the result of prayer, evangelism, or biblical preaching, were, perhaps, simply the result of good marketing, management, and business principles applied to growing one’s membership (clientele). Further, he likened this borrowing, this captivity, to dining with the prince of darkness himself. Yikes. The book, of course, was written with fundamentalist/evangelical churches in mind.
At the very beginning of the book, Guinness quotes sociologist Peter L. Berger, who in his book A Rumor of Angels writes:
He who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon. The devilry of modernity has its own magic: The [believer] who sups with it will find his spoon getting shorter and shorter—until that last supper in which he is left alone at the table, with no spoon at all and with an empty plate. The devil, one may guess, will by then have gone away to more interesting company.
This bit of wisdom and insight would also apply to our present moment in the political/cultural realm. Someone needs to write a new book, entitled Dining with the Devil: Part Two. And the subtitle might be Fundamentalists/Evangelicals Flirt with Political Power.
Modernity’s teleology is simple: power. Knowledge, material resources, collection, categorization, mapping, colonization, and planning, are, at the end of the day, about power. The power to control, the power to impose one’s vision upon the world. The means to this end, for the modern, is the state, the political. We might say the politician is high priest, while the scientist is their wizard, working their dark magic, literally splitting atoms and moving the earth.
The counter-story to the one modernity tells is the Judeo-Christian story, which is one not of power nor imposition, but of vulnerability and the surrender of any supposed power. We live out the paradox that only crucifixions ever portend the possibility of power. Even then, “power” is nothing like what modernity believes it to be. Resurrection power is never about control or mastery. In Revelation 5, the Lion who has “conquered” is the Lamb who is as if “slain.” His “standing” isn’t about the power of a lion, but the surrender of a lamb.
Fundamentalists/Evangelicals have decided, however, that they can keep the spoon long enough—that they would like to dabble in this other type of “power.” They have decided that power, political power, is more important than principle, and that power is not about surrender, but instead is about the imposition of their will upon the earth and others. Rather than the Judeo-Christian story, they secretly believe the counter-myth of modernity.
We can see this most currently with what is going on with Roy Moore in Alabama. Because he is a Republican, because he is supposedly “pro-life,” many evangelicals will give him a pass (As this Christian satire site sums up the mentality here), just as they did Trump. The mindset at play is power over principle. It’s about winning folks; it’s about “power” (just as who we believe is about power as well—why don’t we believe the women?—which, with more satire, is spoken to here). Thus, the ends justify the means. My goodness, but how quaint, how modern. Also, how short sighted. Christians aren’t supposed to act or think short term. Empires, of which America is only the most recent, will come and go. Christians have eternity in mind; we take the long view. Except when we don’t, like now.
Of course, the only one who can give the sort of power modernity believes in is a rather imposing figure, but always on the lookout for those seeking his dinner company. He knows who to invite. And, when the dinner invitation came, many fundamentalist/evangelicals decided to accept. They packed their longest spoons and headed off. The dinner was held on a mountain, and the story goes like this:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” —Matthew 4
Oh, wait. No, I’m sorry, that was the same scenario, but my tale has a different ending. When these Christians were offered the kingdoms of the world, they readily accepted. Strangely though, as they celebrated, one by one, they ceased jumping and laughing, until the last one stopped as the others had. There was an eerie silence as they noticed their spoons had disappeared and the devil was gone. Then they looked at each other and their blood turned to ice as they realized what they had done.
Actually, scratch that last part, the part after “readily accepted.” This story isn’t finished yet—we are living it right now—and we have yet to see how it will turn out. Some conservative evangelicals get it (see here), but too many do not—and I am not that optimistic enough will.
Photo via Unsplash, edited by Dan Wilkinson.
About Darrell Lackey
Darrell Lackey has been a lead pastor and currently works in the private sector. He is part of a home gathering of some amazing, wonderful Christians and a graduate of the University of San Francisco and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (Now Gateway). You can follow him or read more of his writings at Divergence (A Journey Out of Funda-gelicalism). He and his wife reside in Northern California.