AFTER TRUMP: Achieving a New Social Gospel. Donald Heinz. Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, March 2020. ISBN: Paperback: 9781532695315, Hardbound: 9781532695322, also available as an eBook. 250 pages including extensive bibliography. Paperback & eBook: $28.00 / £21.00 / AU$38.00, Hardbound: $43.00 / £33.00 / AU$59.00.
“The Donald” is no longer president, but his disdain for democracy lingers among many Christians. Will we have to live with this and the potential decline of Christianity as something pertinent to how we live and interact with others? Or is there a way to revive a renewed vision of Christianity?
It is this question that Donald Heinz addresses in AFTER TRUMP: Achieving a New Social Gospel.
Heinz, Professor of Religious Emeritus, California State University, Chico, answers the question with a resounding, YES! The way to do renew Christianity he says requires that we:
Return to, and recontest the public square
Unlike many authors who address the question of Christianity after Trump, Heinz wants to engage all streams of Christianity. He believes that each stream has something to offer. He also believes that if we don’t involve all the streams of Christianity in reviving Christianity, the cause is lost. For Heinz this revival needs to be soundly rooted in the scripture, a scripture that speaks continuously from beginning to end of God’s covenant of justice, mercy, and grace.
A new social gospel should come from a Christian witness (what in a particular historical situation the Church believes, teaches, and confesses) that would speak to the times and bring together every dimension of lived Christianity in America and including Christian historical theology and praxis, with each tradition speaking from its strength and subject to correction of its weakness, summing the multiple dimensions biblical Christianity represents—all together amounting to social justice as the social form of Christian love unmistakably grounded in historic, uncompromised Christian theology. Of course what I am calling for emerges from deep resources in the Christian traditions. I am drawing water from Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, evangelical and neo-Anabaptist wells (p. 14).
Heinz postulate that each stream of Christianity contributes something pertinent to the Church’s task. To make his case he lays out chapter by chapter how a Christian witness drawn for all streams of Christianity can go about achieving a new social gospel.
The problem with a review is, that if it is to in-depth people will not the read the book, thinking there is nothing left to garner. Likewise, if the review overly shallow, there is no value in reading the book. The key is to find the balance. After Trump needs to be read. Not just by Liberal Christians, but by all Christians, although I realize that those of the Christian Right will more than likely not do so. I specifically mention “Liberal Christians” because so many of those who claim that title see little value in any other stream of Christianity, especially Evangelical Christianity. The same of course, can be said of the Evangelical Christian’s view of Liberal Christianity. Heinz in After Trump aptly shows the danger in such thinking. And therein lies the value of reading After Trump.
Through out the book, Heinz returns over and over again to the idea that political ideations, no matter their label, will not, and cannot, achieve the new social gospel that he envisions. Only the church can do that. This acclamation, I think, is an often-overlooked viewpoint by both Liberal and Evangelical Christians. Simply put, while political ideations can be used by the church to promote a new social gospel, they cannot replace the church in the achieving of a new social gospel. For far to long, much of the Christian Right has sought to do so, but so has the Christian Left. It is only because of Trump’s rhetoric that the effort of the Christian Left is less visible.
I have read and reread After Trump. It is hard to stop reading the book once you pick it up. As I read something in one chapter my mind went back to something that was said elsewhere. When I read After Trump for second time (and third time), what Heinz had to say as I read, plus what he said elsewhere in the book seemed to create a broad tapestry of both challenge and excitement. It made me want to do my part in the achieving of a new social gospel.
The Epilogue, “Collaborative Eschatology,” not only sums it all up, but it also presents a challenge. The eschatology is not only a collaborative effort of the various streams of Christianity, it is also a collaborative effort with God. It is no longer about what God does for me, or how he punishes those who do not believe (as is most millennial theology). It becomes about what we do with God on behalf of those who experience no justice or mercy from a greedy world.
It wasn’t until my third reading that the significance these words from the section, “Is Christianity the best that we can hope for?” truly sunk in:
The contemporary situation presents new opportunities and new problems for the Christian sequel. A post-Christendom age offering no special privileges to Christianity is a challenge, but it may also present the right opportunity to retell the Christian story about God free of past compromises with state, society, and economic powers. The contemporary interest in spirituality, to some, portends a new “great awakening” in which Christianity lets go of acquired religious trappings that turn so many seekers away. If Christendom has come to represent a heavy yoke, post-Christendom may free Christians (and others) for new efforts to follow and embody the exodus God of the Bible re-encounter the Christ of the New Testament (p. 84,5).
Donald Heinz is Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus at California State University, Chico. He also served as Dean of Humanities and fine Arts. He is a Lutheran (ELCA) minister. His books include The Last Passage: Recovering a Death of Our Own and Christmas: Festival of Incarnation. His interest lies in ethics as social gospel and the sociology of Religion as contested public space. Donald has a Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/donald.heinz.71