Divided by the Sermon on the Mount

Divided by the Sermon on the Mount

Essay By: David Skeel

47 PEPP. L. REV. 495 (2020)

This Essay, written for a festschrift for Bob Cochran, argues that the much-discussed friction between evangelical supporters of President Trump and evangelical critics is a symptom of a much deeper theological divide over the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus told his disciples to turn the other cheek when struck, love their neighbor as themselves, and pray that their debts will be forgiven as they forgive their debtors. Divergent interpretations of these teachings have given rise to competing evangelical visions of justice. One side of today’s divide—the religious right—can be traced directly back to the fundamentalist critics of the early twentieth century movement known as the Social Gospel. The other side does not trace back to the Social Gospel; however, as some have suggested, it has much stronger points of contact with another famous evangelical of the era, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was not a Social Gospeler—Jesus was a Savior, in his view—but Bryan’s vision of justice was closer to the Social Gospelers than to his fellow traditionalists. Given their affinities with Bryan, the Essay calls Russell Moore, Timothy Keller, and other leaders of the emerging alternative to the religious right “neo-Bryanites.” This Essay concludes by considering the political, demographic, and theological factors that may shape the future of the two perspectives.

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