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John Wilson

The Strange Case of Dr. Balmer and Mr. Hyde

Among the many books this season warning about the dire influence of the Religious Right, the one I was most looking forward to—maybe the only one I was looking forward to—was Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America—An Evangelical's Lament (Basic Books; not to be confused with Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, published by Norton, nor with Mel White's Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Religious Right, from Tarcher, or any one of a dozen or so other books with similar titles or subtitles). Balmer is an excellent writer as well as a first-rate scholar; his 1998 Christianity Today profile of Jimmy Swaggart, "Still Wrestling with the Devil," is one of the finest pieces I've read in the past ten years. Randy is also someone I consider a friend. I think he would say the same of me, though we don't see each other often. And although we disagree about all sorts of things, I've always felt that the core convictions we share as believers outweighed such differences.

I still felt that way after reading Thy Kingdom Come, but the book was very disappointing. "Disappointment" suggests that reasonable expectations were not fulfilled. I couldn't honestly say I was disappointed by Balmer's apocalyptic take on the Religious Right, since other things he's written have already pointed in that direction. And I have become resigned to a state of affairs in which many people I respect seem to be living in a parallel universe, where—as in a number of science fiction novels published in the late 1980s, when the "Moral Majority" was on every pundit's lips and Pat Robertson was being described as a plausible presidential candidate—theocracy is the greatest threat to our nation, and where evangelicals in particular need to walk around wearing placards disassociating themselves from the excesses of their mean-spirited brethren, as Brian McLaren lamented recently in ...

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