In his analysis of Carter's presidential years, Balmer concentrates on the alienation of conservative evangelicals from their evangelical president. Balmer argues that "the real catalyst for their disaffection was race, especially the issue of desegregation" as it related to the IRS's revocation of Bob Jones University's tax-exempt status. Balmer provides significant evidence that IRS regulations were a top concern of evangelical leaders in the mid-to-late 1970s. Still, there were many "real" catalysts that flowed into evangelical disaffection with Carter: the cluster of issues pertaining to the family that arose during these years, Carter's failure to appoint evangelicals to government offices, and the administration's economic and foreign policy setbacks.
Balmer also describes Jerry Falwell's mendacity and Billy Graham's duplicity as they worked to bring Carter's presidency to an end. Falwell brazenly lied in his report that Carter had told a group of evangelical leaders he supported gay rights. Eleven days after telling the Reagan campaign that he wanted to "help short of [a] public endorsement," Graham reassured a Carter liaison that he was "staying out of it." While Balmer's critiques of conservative evangelicals are often on target, Redeemer occasionally spends more time criticizing Carter's opponents than getting readers inside the mind of its protagonist. In particular, I found myself wanting a fuller exploration of Carter's post-presidential years, which Balmer covers quickly in a final chapter.
'A Kind of Works Righteousness'
Balmer ends his book with the "impression that Carter was driven—almost obsessed—by a kind of works righteousness." He observes quite rightly that too many Christians seek "to prove by their good works that they are among the elect." From his days on his family farm to his years in the Navy to his many years on the campaign trail, Carter was an incessant worker. Most of the time, his hard work paid off, but Carter's work ethic could not solve the Iranian hostage crisis, his nation's economic malaise, or the electoral threat of Ronald Reagan. Balmer observes, however, that after his defeat to Reagan "Carter reaffirmed his commitment to works righteousness as a way to redeem his loss," and his ceaseless activism and philanthropy bolstered his reputation in the United States and abroad. Balmer thinks that the former president, now approaching 90 years of age, has earned a respite. That is undoubtedly true, but it is difficult to know whether Carter suffers from a theological blind spot or mere workaholism.