Norman Vincent Peale

Heresy in headlines: Raising questions about our social-media addiction and online buzz

Heresy in headlines: Raising questions about our social-media addiction and online buzz

They say most American Christians have little interest in doctrine. Perhaps the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation will briefly change that. Yet theological debates can produce lively news stories, and lately heresy has been in the headlines.

Emily McFarlan Miller, a Protestant-beat specialist with Religion News Service, proposed the “Top 5 ‘heresies’ of 2016” in an interesting December 29 piece. Then a January 3 Washington Post article by theologian Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary-California associated the H-word with President-elect Donald Trump because he favors Paula White and other “prosperity evangelists who cheerfully attack basic Christian doctrines.”

Miller’s list has two items that got considerable mainstream media ink:( 1) The ruckus over ousted Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins and whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. (2) Contentions that an ambiguous 2016 decree from Pope Francis means Catholics who remarry without annulments can receive Communion.

The other three debates were mostly limited to evangelical Protestant circles. Philadelphia Pastor Liam Goligher accused theologian Wayne Grudem and other “complementarians” who see wives as subordinate to husbands of heresy in also subordinating Jesus the divine Son to God the Father. The two other disputes involve Georgia Southern Baptist Andy Stanley, said to undercut the Bible’s unique authority and the centrality of Jesus’ Virgin Birth.

Horton spurns the “word of faith” or “prosperity gospel” movement as a merger between the “new thought” typified by Christian Science and Norman Vincent Peale’s “positive thinking.” In addition to White, Horton targets Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. (White, who will pray at Trump’s inauguration -- see this recent Julia Duin post here at GetReligion -- rejects the “prosperity” label for herself.)

This theological news causes the Religion Guy to contemplate our omnipresent social media.

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CNN scores hit with its well-sourced take on Donald Trump, guilt and the Gospel

CNN scores hit with its well-sourced take on Donald Trump, guilt and the Gospel

It’s rare that an article about Donald Trump’s faith can say something new and fresh, yet a recent CNN.com piece managed to pull that off. It helped that the reporter had some very good sources.

The headline was pretty apropos: “The guilt-free gospel of Donald Trump.” (A similar piece about Hillary might, as my colleague Jim Davis has suggested, have a headline like "Hillary Clinton offers gospel-free guilt.") 

There's been a lot written about the puzzle that is Donald Trump's religious beliefs, but this story manages to break some new ground less than three weeks from Election Day. 

(CNN) -- Donald Trump was ashamed -- contrite even -- as he spoke to Paula White hours after the video of him bragging about groping women was released.
"I heard it in his voice," said White, a Florida pastor who, outside of Trump's family, is his closest spiritual confidant. "He was embarrassed." ...
During his phone call with White, the GOP nominee said he regretted his remarks and was grateful for the evangelicals still supporting him. Later that evening, he publicly apologized in a video that was remarkably free from the usual rituals enacted by disgraced politicians.
Trump didn't stand beside his wife, Melania. He didn't ask for forgiveness. He didn't lament that he had fallen under sin's sway but that by God's grace and with his family's support he hoped to earn a second chance. In fact, Trump didn't mention faith, family or reconciliation at all.

The article goes on to cite several of Trump’s vapid responses to questions about religion.

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The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

 The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

Attempting to comprehend the mystery of Donald Trump’s religion, his critics can’t decide whether to blame Peale or Paula.

Some consider that “positive thinking” guru, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), the inspiration for what they dislike. (Reports say Trump, a boyhood Presbyterian, never actually joined  Peale’s New York City congregation, which is part of the Reformed Church in America.) For other skeptics, it’s not Peale who’s appalling but Paula White.

Writers with yahoo.com and then Politico.com have recently profiled White,  a popular broadcaster, speaker, author and since 2012 senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla. This is one of America’s countless high-growth independent congregations with a “Charismatic” or “Neo-Pentecostal” flavor.

White, a 50-year-old grandmother, and her ministries deserve further reportage with two angles, Trump’s creed and a major fissure in the unruly U.S. evangelical movement.

Veteran activist James Dobson alerted media to the White connection by passing along reports that Trump, a “baby Christian,” was led to renewed faith by White. Trump and White were pals long before she helped broker his 2015 and 2016 meetings with evangelical types. Trump endorsed one of her books in 2007 calling her “a beautiful person,” appeared on White’s TV show, and White rents a New York apartment in a Trump building.

So let's turn to Trump’s fiercest evangelical foe, the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore, the Washington D.C. voice for America’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention.

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