Christian historians and philosophers are calling into question some of Donald Trump's recent theological and political statements, noting that salvation and Christian success does not necessarily look like increased influence in politics.
At a gathering Thursday in Orlando sponsored by the American Renewal Project, the Republican presidential nominee told evangelical Christian leaders in attendance that he would work to repeal the 1954 Johnson amendment which prohibits churches and nonprofit ministries from endorsing candidates. He told them "you've been silenced" and that their voice in government would increase in a Trump administration; he further contended that if he is elected, church attendance would also rise.
In a statement Monday to The Christian Post, Thomas Kidd, professor of history and director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, said "with each passing day, it becomes more difficult to discern what Trump's 'actual' beliefs are on any subject, including theology or political policy."
"The temptation that evangelicals are facing is the choice to support a candidate, regardless of his views and personal characteristics, because he promises that he will give Christians more power when he is in office," he said.
As CP reported Friday, Trump said, "So go out and spread the word and once I get in, I will do my thing that I do very well. And I figure it's probably maybe the only way I'm going to get to heaven. So I better do a good job. Okay? Thank you." He added that this season "will go down in the history books and for evangelicals, for the Christians, for everybody, for everybody of religion, this will be maybe the most important election that our country has ever had."
Presuming that Trump was being serious about getting elected and being a good president is the means of his going to Heaven, The Christian Post reached out to J.T. Bridges, academic dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary near Charlotte, North Carolina, to clarify what it takes to, as Trump puts it, "get to Heaven" from a biblical standpoint.
"Probably the most applicable verses here would be Romans 3:21-22, 'But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known. ... This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.' And Romans 4:4-5, 'Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness," Bridges said in an interview Monday.
In an Aug. 10 op-ed for The Federalist, Rebecca Cusey pointed to a passage in Trump's 2005 book, Think Like a Billionaire, which also suggested that Trump believes an accumulation of good deeds to outweigh one's sins gets one into Heaven.
"I want every decision I make to reflect well on me when it's time for me to go to that big boardroom in the sky. When I get permanently fired by the ultimate boss, I want the elevator to Heaven to go up, not down," he wrote.
CP asked Bridges what underpins the thinking of those who say they must do a certain something, like getting elected and being a good president, to attain salvation.
"I think it is based in a wrong view of identity. There is a mantra common in churches, motivated by genuine piety though false, that in Christ Jesus I am 'just a sinner saved by grace,'" Bridges said.
"To the degree that one fails to accept the radical newness of one's identity in Christ as a son or daughter of Heaven — no longer 'a sinner,' which typically identifies the unsaved — it is to that degree that one continues to try and appease God as a wrathful judge rather than abide with Him as a loving Father. From this, I think, comes a works-based Christianity."
Since the symbol for Christians is the cross, Christ dying for our sins, victory is not measured by political influence and looks like something very different than Trump's measure of success, he said.
True victory for a Christian is found at the end of the Great Story, in Revelation 22:1-5, Bridges added, which reads:
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever."
He added, "That is the assured victory of the Church in the end. In the meantime we strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil and this with weapons not of this world."
"For the upcoming election I would say, 'Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind ...' and 'Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves,'" Bridges concluded.