I am working on a review essay about Christian responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. My research largely focuses on books written by, marketed to, or likely to be read by evangelical Christians, where evangelical is defined broadly. Stephen E. Strang’s God, Trump, and COVID-19 is one of those books. (The others were written by Walter Brueggemann, Mark Hitchcock, John C. Lennox, Kristi Mair and Luke Cawley, John Piper, and N. T. Wright.)
Strang is a charismatic Christian with roots in the Assemblies of God. I was interested in reading his perspective because I am a Pentecostal minister, ordained by the Assemblies of God, and currently serving as executive editor of its leadership perspective.
(I should quickly add that this review states my personal opinion only and should not be understood as a denominational evaluation. I should also acknowledge that Strang is a friend of my father’s and has always been kind to my family, and on the couple of occasions where I have met him, to me.)
Unfortunately, despite theological and spiritual affinity with Strang on a number of issues, I cannot recommend this book. There are several reasons for this:
First, Strang does not grapple in a serious way the wisdom the Bible brings to bear on current situation. He does not draw from the well of systematic theology or apologetics to illuminate the pandemic’s meaning. And he does not offer an extended reflection on the ethical dimensions of the pandemic. The other authors I am reading do what Strang does not. He writes, “I want the reader to understand where God is in the midst of a historically tense, intense time” (xv). The desire is good, but the execution is not.
What Strang does instead of grappling with the Bible, theology, and ethics is focus on politics and prophecy. My second and third criticisms have to do with these two issues.
Let me start with politics. Throughout the book, Strang tells readers that God, Trump, and COVID-19 is a follow-up book to God, Trump, and the 2020 Election, published in late 2019. In these books, Strang offers a full-throated defense of President Trump’s action specifically with regard to the pandemic and generally on public policy, respectively. Throughout the COVID-19 book—I have not read the 2020 election book—Strang portrays Trump as the decisive, farsighted leader Christians need to support, all the while castigating Democrats, the Left, and mainstream media. Whatever you may think of Strang’s arguments, his focus is on the political dimensions of the crisis, which is perhaps why he doesn’t deal in any in-depth way with biblical, theological, and ethical issues.
Third, Strang gives too much attention to modern-day prophets such as David Wilkerson, Shawn Bolz, Chuck D. Pierce, and the like. Chapter 1 opens with a 1986 prophecy allegedly given by David Wilkerson:
I see a plague coming on the world and the bars, church, and government shut down. The plague will hit New York City and shake it like it has never been shaken. The plague is going to force prayerless believers into radical prayer, into their Bibles and repentance will be the cry from true men of God in the pulpit. And out of it will come a third Great Awakening that will sweep America and the world (1; cf. 69–71)
I use the term allegedly because the authenticity of the quote has been disputed by fact-checkers. Strang defends the authenticity of the prophecy by attributing it to a hand-written note by Mike Evans based on a conversation the latter had with Wilkerson in 1986. Evans stuck the note in the Bible he was using at the time, and when recently going through that Bible, he claims that the note fell out.
While the Wilkerson prophecy portends a severe plague, prophecies by Bolz and Pierce point to something less. Strang writes, “I believe God’s prophets [i.e., Bolz and Pierce] were saying it [the pandemic] wouldn’t be as bad as the politicians, medical experts, and liberal media were saying” (75). In favor of that interpretation, he notes that the virus seems to have peaked in mid- to late-April in the most affected areas of the country (especially New York City). However, the book was written and published prior to the summer outbreak that has pushed COVID-19 cases and related deaths higher. With another outbreak expected in the fall, those numbers could go higher still.
Fourth, Strang displays throughout the book a penchant for relying on spiritual leaders for accurate information about the pandemic and its effects, even as he seems to downplay expert testimony. (In the quote above, note how he throws “medical experts” under the bus alongside “politicians” and “liberal media.”) This penchant gives Strang’s analysis a patina of journalism, even as his sources are passing along second- and third-hand information.
The most egregious example of this comes in Chapter 3, “China’s Role in the Pandemic.” Strang tells how he received a text message from his friend Frank Amedia. Strang writes that Amedia “had new information from one of his Chinese friends that on the surface sounded like a major conspiracy theory.” Rather than emerging from a Wuhan wet market, the text claimed the virus came “from a Wuhan virology lab that collected hundreds of viruses with the idea of finding vaccines or learning enough to prevent another SARS or swine flu outbreak” (18). Strang tracked down Amedia’s source, whom he names “Jay.” Jay was “a Chinese American Christian who was getting his information from the ‘grass roots’ in China via the internet, and much of it contradicting what we were hearing in the media at the time” (20).
In other words, Strang received a tip from a non-medical expert (Amedia) based on information from another non-medical expert who was not in-country (Jay) who was passing along information received from non-medical sources within China. Given the malfeasance of the Chinese government in its handling of the outbreak in Wuhan, we may never know the truth about the pandemic’s origin. And even mainstream sources and commentators acknowledge the potential of an accidental release of the virus from a Wuhan lab. So, maybe there are elements of truth in Strang’s reportage. My point is that its provenance is suspect. Much of what he reports as insider knowledge was being speculated about on the internet at the same time he received this tip from Amedia. (I know because I was reading all sorts of speculation at that time on the internet.) Public speculation does not become insider knowledge just because you heard it from a guy, who heard it from a guy, who heard it from several other guys, which is literally what the Amedia-Jay-grass-roots chain of testimony is.
My fifth and final criticism is the dark conspiratorial tone with which Strang ends the book. Strang writes:
What if I were to tell you that these events were planned? [In context, these “events” were long-term social trends such as family breakdown that preceded the pandemic.] What if I were to tell you that powerful ungodly groups actually control/own much of the ‘mainstream’ media, the central banks, and many of the world’s largest corporations and that they all were working in tandem toward an agenda? I know, it sounds crazy, but I believe it’s actually true! Even the UN was founded by some of those very same elites. Look up its history. Now the UN Agenda 2020 and Agenda 2030 clearly lay out this go-forward plan for us all to see. It is slowly pushing us toward globalization. The UN wants people to be all mixed with no borders or national identities. This is their strategy (94).
Strang goes on to describe this as “the ‘beast system’ being finalized and prepared for the next phase” (94). It would’ve been one step closer to reality had Hilary Clinton become president in 2016. However, “God intervened,” writes Strang. “Just when the cabal was about to complete the globalist plan, further give up our rights and sovereignty, and solidify Agenda 2030 through various trade deals, treaties, and laws—just when the nail was about to be driven into the coffin, God heard the prayers of the saints and gave us a last-minute reprieve! He gave us a billionaire who was able to align with the patriots inside the government who wanted to stop the cabal and its sinister plan for our nation and world” (95).
Earlier, Strang acknowledge that Jay’s story seemed like a “major conspiracy theory.” But Jay’s account of the virus’ origin pales as a major conspiracy theory compared to the one Strang closes the book with: the eight-decade globalist cabal that began with the founding of the United Nations. Strang tosses off this conspiracy theory in the final pages of the book without providing any evidence for it whatsoever.
So, for these reasons, I cannot recommend this book as a serious Christian analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is too light biblically and theologically, too reliant on contemporary prophesies, and too strong on conspiracism. Pentecostals and charismatics need to speak into the current situation, showing where God is in the midst of our intense, tense reality. God, Trump, and COVID-19 is not the word we need, however.
Stephen E. Strang, God, Trump, and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Affecting Christians, the World, and America’s 2020 Election (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2020).
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