My Surprising Experience with Glenn Beck

Finally Hearing Beck

So, believe it or not, I went and heard Glen Beck speak live this past Saturday night. If you know anything about me, you’ll know that over the last couple of years, I’ve become less focused on politics and more focused on ministry. I’ve also grown disinterested in the shouting, debates, and theatre that makes up much of political theatre.

My news consumption consists of reading sites like Politico, checking a few blogs like National Review, reading Matt Lewis, reading World Magazine, and watching what I think is the most balanced and informative show on TV, Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough. Oh, and yes I do glance at the Drudge Report from time to time because you just can’t help it. Old habits die hard.

But I try to catch a large cross-section of opinion on the center-right spectrum, with my bias being toward guys like Russell Moore, Chuck Colson, and folks who view the world through a broad, biblical lens. I also read David Brooks and Michael Gerson and Peggy Noonan fairly regularly.

But I didn’t watch much of Beck. I had a perception of him based on the snapshots I’ve heard of him, the caricature fed by the media narrative of him. Since I assumed he was just another Rush/Hannity/Coulter megaphone, I didn’t find the time to invest. In fact, I have heavily criticized him, lumping him in with the rest of the conservative media narrative.

But it’s interesting how your opinion changes of a person when you see and actually hear them live. And I must admit, that while I don’t agree with everything Beck says or does, I came away with a more nuanced picture of what he contributes to the culture.

I was graciously afforded tickets to this Chicago event by a close friend of mine who was part of the organizing team. It was an impressive event. Much of the stadium was filled with tea party and conservative types, mostly regular, hardworking Americans who want to have a say in shaping their country.

Most of the speakers were politicos, repeating the same lines I’ve heard for decades, offering the typical party line. 

What I liked About Beck

But when Beck finally spoke, I was struck by the depth of his presentation and the passion for his beliefs. What he gave us in that hour was more than just the typical Hate Democrats, tax cuts, deficit-reduction stuff.

Sure, he got off quite a few cheap shots at the President. I’m not a big fan of this type of politics. I usually like just speaking the issues. (Though Beck’s lines were more funny and original and were in no way offensive).

I was impressed by two things. First, Beck has an uncharacteristic humility. He doesn’t fancy himself as the answer. He doesn’t even act as if has all the answers. He struck me as a man on a quest to help direct the future of this country.

The second impression I had was this. Beck hit on something that most conservative talking heads, GOP policy-makers, and run-of-the-mill candidates skip right over. Beck said that the problems in this country are not about the next election. They are not about the political parties.

He said the problems are deeper. Problems that go to the heart of who we are as a people. He said the President isn’t the problem. We’re the problem. And the solution is in neighborhoods, communities and churches as we live out our faith on a daily basis.

This message really resonated with me, because I think the problems America faces are problems of integrity and character. It’s easy to blame the Democrats, Hollywood, and whatever liberal bogeyman we like to blame. But the real issues are deeper. Beck nailed this. What’s more he encourage us to stop allowing the media to divide us. I loved this.

Furthermore, Beck has no allegiance to any party apparatus. He wasn’t even encouraging people to pledge their lives to a party. I suspect the GOP will find him a real bother when they regain power. He will hold their feet to the fire unlike others in the conservative media.

I confess that I misjudged Beck and didn’t realize the substance of his speeches and arguments. I’ve been wrong.

What I didn’t Like About Beck

But, that’s not to say I’m about to join Beck’s regiment of black-robed clergy. I came away from the Beck rally with mixed emotions. Positive, because Beck nails the real issues in this country and traces the historical patterns.

But I’m also saddened in one respect. Beck is an earnest man of faith. But which faith? As much as I’d like to say that Beck is a born again believer, who passionately follows the same God we do, I just can’t. Beck is an avowed Mormon.

What I admire is that he really takes his faith seriously. It is not a political crutch like many others and he earnestly follows the morals that Mormons believe (many of which are shared by evangelicals).

But the Mormon faith is not the faith of the Bible, the revealed Word of God. I don’t say that with arrogance because “I’m right.” That’s just the truth. Tragically a lot of Christians have hailed Beck as a Christian hero, someone worth following, beyond politics. Even someone who can shape the church.

What we don’t realize is that Beck’s theology informs his worldview:

First, he affirms the basic goodness of man. He said the problems were government, media, and the elites. But man is not basically good, my friend. Man is intrinsically evil. This sounds like a harsh message, but it’s a hopeful message, because Jesus came to rescue man from evil. In fact, it is man’s own self-righteousness, his own sense of goodness that keeps him from Jesus.

The problem with the world is us. Sin has destroyed what God created. And only God, through Jesus, can restore the world to its rightful place. When Jesus returns as King, He will do that and His followers will be part of the process.

Secondly, he eschews grace. Beck implored ordinary people to change this country by serving God and serving others, by giving, by getting involved in their churches. This is a great message and evangelicals believe this. But his motivation was that these works might even out the scales and get us into Heaven.

Oh how those words pierced my heart with sorrow. For I saw a good and passionate patriot in Mr. Beck, but a man guided by such fatal theology. How I pray now for His soul, that he realizes the error of his theology and understands the real, biblical gospel.

Thirdly, he lofts America as the hope of the world. But America is not the hope of the world. The Church, the body of Christ, is the hope of the world. America has been great only when America has been a nation characterized by a growing, healthy, Spirit-led, robust church.

If Americans only rally around basic principles and morals, she will fail and fall. But if America’s church lives radically and sacrificially and allows the Spirit to work, there is a good chance America will be great. But more importantly, the church will be alive and many will be added to the Kingdom.

In fact, I dare say America is still great because America’s church has been strong and vibrant. There is still a healthy resistance, because of the salt of the church, to injustice and evil.

How Should Christians Approach Beck

So how should Christians approach Beck? It’s a worthy question. I think we can view Glenn Beck as a healthy influence on our culture. We are called to be salt and light, to be active in shaping our culture, to weigh in on the great debates of the day. We should work for good leadership in our cities, states, and nation. We should not resist the fight against injustice and evil.

We can work with a man like Mr. Beck, whose solutions for America’s ills seem much closer to Biblical principles than many. And yet, he is not infallible, he is not always right, and we must be discerning so that the mission of “saving America” doesn’t conflict with the mission of the church. Furthermore, we must not forsake Biblical orthodoxy on the altar of political expediency. We must not deny the essential doctrines of the Trinity, of salvation, for a place at the table.

We must see the transforming power of the Gospel as the hope of the world. We can and should love our country. But we must love Jesus more and His love must give us a love for the nations, a love for our political enemies, and a desire to see Jesus rescue all from the bondage of sin.

Most of all, we must live and act like Christians, even in the rough-and-tumble arena of politics. Which means we stand firm for what we believe, we shape culture, but we avoid engaging in the gossip, cheap-shots, and crassness that defines much of the political debate.

And it also means that we invest our energy in building up God’s Church, where the Spirit dwells. Because the Church is the hope of the world.