There’s almost a tradition among American conservatives of abandoning the movement in disgust at the Religious Right. This was part of Michael Lind’s break with it in the mid-1990s, as he described in Up From Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America (1996). Famed Republican strategist Kevin Phillips bemoaned the influence of evangelicals during the second George W. Bush Administration in American Theocracy (2006). That same year, former First Things senior editor Damon Linker wrote The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege.

Atlantic magazine staff writer Tim Alberta, an evangelical son of an evangelical pastor and for a short period a reporter for National Review, provides the latest installment in this series with his new book, The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. It is a jeremiad against evangelical support for Donald Trump and a glowing portrayal of the minority of evangelical leaders working to undermine that support. But though his criticism has its merits, Alberta’s harsh rhetoric and unbalanced portrayals make the book unlikely to foster the reforms he desires.


The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory relates numerous stories of pro-Trump evangelicals behaving badly. Alberta investigates Liberty University and its former president Jerry Falwell, Jr., who operated the school like a dictatorship while engaging in dubious personal behavior. He attends an event put on by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, where speakers include Trump spiritual advisor and prosperity gospel preacher Paula White—viewed by many evangelicals as a heretic—and another person who promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory. Alberta visits the American Restoration Tour, a hybrid revival and GOP pep rally designed to convince people that “We’re losing the country.” He covers pastor Bill Bolin at FloodGate Church in Brighton, Michigan, who regularly devotes 15-minute segments of the church service to political rants about COVID-19 and other topics. And he attends the church of pastor Greg Locke, who has called Joe Biden a “sex-trafficking, demon-possessed mongrel” among other colorful phrases.

Alberta argues that many evangelicals have “made deals with the devil.” “Too many of them worship America” rather than Christ, he approvingly quotes one pastor as saying. They fail to follow the Biblical command to love others and are either racist or insufficiently sensitive to racism. Alberta sees a “renaissance” of “neo-Confederate sentiment” within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). And conservative evangelicals, he claims, are willingly in thrall to conspiracy theories.

Those so characterized will undoubtedly be incensed by Alberta’s deeply hostile book. And he gives them plenty of reasons to reject it. For example, as befits a magazine writer, his book is mostly a collection of vignettes, not a data-driven analysis or systematic survey. This immediately provides an opening for people to accuse him of cherry-picking particularly egregious examples. He even invites this, writing at one point that “it was time, I decided, to visit the furthest fringes. It was time to go see Greg Locke.”


But whatever the defects in the messenger or the message, evangelicals would do well to heed some of Alberta’s criticisms. There are serious and widespread flaws in American evangelicalism. It is dominated by charismatic figures who rule over their organizations like feudal lords. Many are hucksters who exploit their flock or have acquired unseemly levels of wealth for people in their positions. Some promote conspiracy theories. There are more people involved in the prosperity gospel movement and other dodgy corners of Pentecostalism than many evangelicals would like to admit. Evangelicals have become too tightly connected to the Republican Party—which usually fails to advance their priorities when in power. For many people, “evangelical” is more a cultural identity than a religious one.

Yet even though Alberta’s critique of Trump-supporting evangelicals has a degree of uncomfortable truth, his portrayal of their opponents is deeply flawed. Alberta can be nuanced in the way he covers the former, acknowledging some of the good works they do—such as Greg Locke’s fundraising for the homeless and drug addicts. In contrast, his portraits of anti-Trump evangelicals like David French and Russell Moore, and others he deems “good guys,” are one-dimensional hagiography. He writes of SBC president Bart Barber, for example, that “[i]t was hard to imagine a more winsome human being.” Of Barber’s predecessor as SBC president, Ed Litton, Alberta tells us that Litton did not run for the customary second term because of “the pressures he felt navigating this denominational civil war.” He fails to mention that Litton was also embroiled in a major plagiarism scandal involving over 100 sermons allegedly copied from others without attribution.

His portrayal of the anti-Trumpers is almost a photographic negative of the pro-Trumpers he decries. Pro-Trumpers believe they are fighting a culture war to save America from those who want to destroy it. But Alberta’s anti-Trumpers are likewise fighting a culture war, only theirs is internal to the church, waged against more conservative evangelicals. They too seem to believe they are engaged in a Manichean struggle between good and evil. And they, too, sometimes worship America, as shown in David French’s table-pounding over the First Amendment, a quintessentially American principle.


In fact, in his own apocalyptic style and over-the-top denunciations of pro-Trump evangelicals in his book and articles, Alberta resembles the very people he castigates. He too believes America is facing a mortal threat. For example, on Christmas Day 2023 he warned in an Atlantic column of the danger Christian nationalism poses to the future of America. He uses disease metaphors to describe pro-Trump evangelicals—terms like “contagion” and “depollute” that echo how his targets might describe the Left. He writes in the book, “many [pro-Trump] American evangelicals cannot let go.” Neither can he.

Alberta touts himself as an evangelical. He starts each chapter with a quotation from Scripture. He expounds Christian theology, and even explains Greek words used in the New Testament. At one point he confidently states, “When Jesus walked the earth, He went out of His way to minister to the broken and the shunned. He didn’t show mere mercy to the adulterer and the prostitute and the tax collector; he showed favoritism toward them.” He lays out his own theological justification for ordaining female pastors. And much more.

But when it comes to matters like abortion, he doesn’t operate this way. Instead, he describes abortion merely as something that the people he profiles oppose: “If abortion is murder,” he writes, “as pro-life advocates like Phillips believe….” Alberta carefully avoids admitting that Christian doctrine conflicts with any liberal secular elite positions, or that he himself holds any views that conflict with them. His book is crafted to appeal to those elites and confirm them in their pre-existing dislike of conservative evangelicals, positioning their own values as the proper Christian measure for doing so.

He also omits cases and information that complicate his narrative. For example, he denies that those who opposed shutting down churches over COVID-19 did so on rational and legal grounds. Even former National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, praised by Alberta in the book, now agrees that public health officials did not give due consideration to the broader impact of lockdown orders when making decisions. And the author might have mentioned the well-publicized case of conservative pastor John MacArthur, who won his legal battle in California over church shutdown orders. Or he could have owned up to the liberal political behavior among many evangelicals, to which he devotes only a very small amount of ink. For example, 100% of the political donations from 2015-2022 by staff members at Christianity Today, evangelicalism’s flagship magazine, went to Democrats.

Alberta’s book is ultimately yet another piece of evangelical writing that ardently criticizes conservative evangelicals, in a liberal secular forum, using arguments aligned with liberal secular elite values. It is therefore unlikely to spur any positive reforms among conservative evangelicals—which is a shame, because reforms are badly needed. Alberta is not wrong about that.