In Christianese, 'the remnant' is a term to indicate the truest of all true Christians: themselves, of course. Other Christians, even other evangelicals, are fakers who are going to Hell. Only the remnant gets a free pass to Heaven.
A very important evangelical belief centers on the idea of the remnant. No, it’s not a horror movie title—though it very well could be in this case. Rather, it’s the belief that the very truest of all true-blue evangelicals constitute a tiny, utterly embattled and persecuted subset of Christians. Let’s unpack this belief and see where it comes from, how evangelicals use it, and why it means so much to them.
Christianese 101: The remnant
The concept of the remnant is upper-level Christianese. It’s an Extremely Important Word for evangelicals that relates to something they hold especially dear: themselves.
In the real world, a remnant in general is whatever’s left over after something has taken everything else away. So a small bit of cooking oil might be the remnant after the rest has been used. The word can also refer to a bit of unsold matter from a larger whole, like cloth or carpeting.
The Old Testament generally uses the real-world sense of the word:
“But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” [Genesis 45:7, spoken by Joseph to his brothers]
. . . [the locust] has eaten the remnant of that which is escaped, which is left to you from the hail, and it has eaten every tree which is springing out of the field for you . . . [Exodus 10:5, spoken by Moses to the Pharaoh]
And the remnant of the meat offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’: it is a thing most holy of the offerings of the LORD made by fire. [Leviticus 2:3, referring to offerings]
And the priest shall make an atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned in one of these, and it shall be forgiven him: and the remnant shall be the priest’s, as a meat offering. [Leviticus 5:13, referring to animals sacrificed as sin offerings]
Occasionally, we’ll see the evangelical sense of the word used, like one of their favorite passages in Isaiah 10:20-22:
On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no longer depend on him who struck them, but they will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God. Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant will return.
In the New Testament, though, we see this sense of remnant almost exclusively:
And the remnant [of invited guests] took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. [Matthew 22:6, the Parable of the Banquet]
“Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars. I am the only one left, and they are seeking my life as well?” And what was the divine reply to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the same way, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. [Romans 11:3-5; divine reply refers to 1 Kings 19:18]
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. [Revelation 11:13]
As you can see, it’s a whole thing in Christianity, particularly for evangelical culture warriors. If you see a church called “Remnant,” like the one started by weird fundie weight-loss guru Gwen Shamblin (archive), you can be absolutely assured that it’s an evangelical church whose members are way into the culture wars.
The remnant in the wild
Evangelicals take this remnant stuff very seriously. To them, it means more than being the leftovers or the last bit unused. It’s more about being the only real true believers out of all the rest of the fakey-fake pseudo-believers.
For example, a Calvinist church in Tacoma exhorts its congregation to “think like a Remnant”:
To consider oneself part of the remnant today sounds and feels proud and conceited. To declare oneself part of the faithful minority as opposed to being lumped with the unfaithful majority smacks of arrogance. We remind ourselves it is God who gets to dole out labels.“Thinking Like a Remnant” (archive)
But weirdly, it’s this god’s self-appointed spokespeople who actually do the doling-out. Nobody’s ever heard their god say a thing, most especially including his own followers!
This doling-out isn’t just a fun, overly-flattering little descriptor, either. It’s a statement of condemnation of all other flavors of Christianity and all Christians who disagree with these folks. Out of every single flavor of Christianity over its almost-2000-year-long history, these particular Christians are the only ones who finally got Jesusing right.
“Thinking like a Remnant” also involves feeling super-duper-persecuted for such superior Jesusing, as this church’s site reminds the flocks:
Outnumbered? Scorned? Misunderstood? Disliked? Yes, we are. But we have been redeemed.“Thinking Like a Remnant” (archive)
That’s not why people “scorn” these Christians, of course, nor why they “dislike” them. Their imaginary redemption has nothing to do with that. However, it’s clearly much more comfortable to pin the tail on a strawman than consider the boorish and cruel behavior that actually constitutes the reasons for society’s reactions to them.
The remnant: The best of the best of the BEST, SIR! With honors!
Famous evangelical leader A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) had much the same things to say about the notion of the remnant some years ago:
I am alarmed because it has been true since Pentecost that such a vast number of people who call themselves Christians-the overwhelming majority-are nominal, and only a remnant is saved.“The Remnant. Who are they? Are you part of the Remnant?” (archive)
Tozer didn’t like knowing that many Christians felt perfectly peaceful about their faith. To him, that meant they were fakey-fake fake Christians, not the real true believers who were really going to Heaven after death:
Either we take ourselves for granted and have a sham peace or we get disturbed and then we pray through and find true peace. Most believers take themselves for granted and have a false peace. If they did what the Bible taught, they would be bothered and alarmed about themselves and would go to God with an open Bible and let the Bible cut them to pieces and put them together again, then give them peace. And the peace they had when they had been chopped to pieces by the Holy Spirit and the Sword of the Spirit-that peace, then, is a legitimate peace. [. . .]
So at the second coming of Christ, it will be as it was in the days of Noah; and in those days, Noah, the eighth person, was saved by water, by the ark. The rest of the population drowned.“The Remnant. Who are they? Are you part of the Remnant?” (archive)
Even the comments sound like people who take themselves entirely too seriously and think entirely too much of themselves.
It all reminds me of that hilarious scene from Men in Black, where Jay is trying to work out the purpose of a big meeting:
At least “Captain America over here” had objective reasons for thinking so highly of himself. As a group, evangelicals have none. But somehow, they think even more highly of themselves.
The weighty implications of being part of this glorious remnant
“Thinking like a Remnant” involves being part of the evangelical culture wars, according to Crosswalk:
One of the things we must be aware of is that if you are in Christ you are part of the present day remnant. Jesus calls you salt and one of the functions of salt is to preserve, which is what the remnant does. We are called to preserve God’s standard in the earth regardless of what we see happening in our society.“What Does Remnant Mean in the Bible?” (archive)
It’s also yet another way for Christians to lord their superior Jesusing over others. Over and over again, we see Christians using “the remnant” (archive) to refer to themselves as the real-deal true Christians—while slamming all other kinds of Christians as fakes who are doomed to Hell for their insufficient, incorrect Jesusing:
Today the church serves as God’s chosen people. And like the children of Israel, the church has become a sinful nation, comprised of believers laden with iniquity. They are a seed of evildoers, with children who are corrupter. They have forsaken the Lord and have provoked the Holy One unto anger.  They have gone away backward. But despite the state of the church, God has once again left a small remnant. A remnant that is far from perfect, but a remnant that trust God.“Who is God’s remnant?” (archive)
And, amusingly enough, we also see Christians policing each other’s use of the word itself:
Claiming to be the remnant is a sign of arrogance. To excuse a church’s lack of growth on being a remnant is to claim that we are more right than others. [. . .]
You are not part of the remnant because you have stricter standards than the bigger church across town. You are not a part of the remnant because you are more separated than other churches.“Are We the Remnant?” (archive)
Of course, as that last quote illustrates, being part of the remnant implies a serious obligation to recruit more people into the fold:
This is your message, the vital message, and if you won’t carry it, who will?
We will carry it. We the few, the remnant, the believing church of Philadelphia in the time of the lukewarm church of Laodicea.“A Message to the Remnant of Believers in the World Today” (archive)
Other Christians lean hard on this concept to frighten believers about the Endtimes:
In this generation, we’ve seen the final jubilee that will happen in our generation. The next one to take place during a feast will happen in 500 years. We have seen the last one. Therefore, we are the remnant generation. We are the generation that have seen Matthew 24 to come to pass, the rebirth of Israel, Daniel 12:4 come to pass, we have seen technology and science increase. Most of the people don’t know the times we are living in. Only a remnant does. Why? Because they can read the signs. When you know why these signs are happening, you will have peace and no fear because you know our redemption draws near.“End Times Chosen Remnant” (archive)
As you might already have noticed, Calvinists seem particularly enamored of remnant ideology:
The elect are not many but few—only a remnant. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to [eternal] destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13–14). And Paul said, “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved’” (Rom. 9:27). We are the remnant; we are not many.“Jesus Prays for Us” (archive)
Using remnant ideology to feel persecuted
One of the weirdest ideas to come out of evangelicalism is the notion that “the world,” meaning everybody but their own narrowly-defined tribe of real true Christians, despises the remnant and wishes to oppress and persecute everyone within it. In reality, if evangelicals actually reliably did even a tenth of what Jesus commanded his followers to do and consistently refrained from doing even a fraction of the stuff he ordered them not to do, nobody’d ever have any problem with them.
But where’s the fun in being kind, respectful, and charitable? In comforting the grieving, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked? Where are the sadistic thrills in turning the other cheek, giving everything you have to the poor, giving someone the shirt off your back when they ask for your coat, and treating everyone, including your worst enemies, with kindness and love? What power accrues while accepting whatever horrible things someone else wants to do to you, and enduring it with nothing but smiles and blessings on your lips?
And if you’re not swanning around ostentatiously Jesusing at everyone, how will they even know you’re Jesus’ very special prettiest princess?
No, anyone involved in modern evangelicalism isn’t there to do all that boring stuff, nor to refrain from doing the gratifying stuff that really revs their motors. They’re there to get a free ticket out of Hell—and to mistreat others with Jesus’ permission.
(See also: Permission slips.)
They’ve declared themselves the best, truest, most incredibly Jesusy Jesusers who ever Jesused the Jesus-Jesus. Along with that declaration, they’ve also decided all other Christians are fakers and the outside world hates them jus’ fer’ bein’ KRIS-chin.
The stage is set for them to assume that literally any pushback at all to any of their control-grabs is actually persecution of the most shocking and egregious kind. Because obviously, fakers and heathens totally hate and fear the purity and godliness of the remnant. Gosh, they’re just far too divine to handle!
Sidebar: The Spiritual Ruler strikes again
Way back in college, I was a sprightly, bright-eyed Pentecostal lass. I had a lot of friends on-campus from a number of different evangelical groups. And because I thought Pentecostals were the remnant, I regarded every one of them as well-meaning but missing the mark (archive), to use the Christianese.
For one thing, every one of them was a Trinitarian. Pentecostals rejected the Trinity, instead embracing Oneness Theology. Back then, my tribe considered Trinitarianism a filthy papist doctrine that incorporated paganism into the one true monotheistic faith.
Only the remnant understood and embraced Oneness. And spoke in tongues just like on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts. And maintained a ferocious separation from the outside world’s secular ways. Etc., etc., etc.
Truly, Jesus was so lucky to have us!
The funny thing, though, is that it’s almost impossible for one Christian to persuade another that they’re dead wrong about a major doctrinal belief. They can both swear up and down that they only want to believe what’s correct and most Jesusy, and they can both pray the same prayers and study the exact same Bible verses. But they’ll only see their own beliefs confirmed and other beliefs disavowed.
Even those papist Trinitarian pagans had entire books full of reasons to reject Oneness Theology, just as Pentecostals did to debunk Trinitarianism.
I came out of Christianity with a real affection for mockingly calling particularly-pompous Trinitarians heretics. But really, every Christian who’s ever lived is a heretic to some other Christian somewhere. There’s no way to win this squabble because there’s no consistent objective standard with which Christians may compare themselves. The Bible is a laughably poor resource in that respect; its many verses can be twisted and turned to suit any interpretation imaginable—as my college friends and I discovered many, many times.
The problems with declaring themselves the prettiest, most important princesses at the ball
We’ve already seen one Christian leader chide his flocks for using remnant ideology to excuse their lack of recruitment success. We’ve also already seen another Christian leader preen and strut about how it’s totally not arrogant at all to declare oneself as the remnant. No, not at all—if he does say so himself!
It’s not just arrogant, though. It’s not just a tidy excuse, either, for a small church’s congregation size.
Posing as the realest, truest Christians ever, the only ones who are actually going to Heaven, has a marked effect on those claiming it. Remnant ideology becomes a satisfying narrative for them. The flocks greedily consume it—and then use it to rationalize their control-lust and tribalistic impulses.
That’s how Mike Johnson, the new extremely evangelical Speaker of the House, can say with such conviction (archive) that the literal only reason why his tribe’s power is being curtailed is because everybody just hates them and persecutes them fer jus’ bein’ KRISchin. I’ll bet you just about anything that the guy thinks he and his like-minded tribemates constitute the remnant.
(Author’s note: Suddenly intrigued by this idea, I went a-searching. And yes. According to Rolling Stone (archive), Mike Johnson sure does think that: “He speaks at length about a devoted Christian “remnant” — or keepers of the true faith — who can help save America from retribution.” If you’re wondering, saving America means evangelicals fully controlling Americans’ lives, Handmaid style. It’s alarming to hear Johnson further claiming (archive) that the separation of church and state is a “misnomer.”)
It’s funny to watch these Christians get mad when nobody else honors them as the pretty princesses they think they truly are.
The politics of the remnant
Once Christians declare themselves the best of the best of the best, SIR, with honors, then they start to look at everyone else as poor widdle heathens in need of fixing up, people far too stupid and naughty to know what’s best for themselves, who need Designated Adults to step in and force them onto the right path (through actual enslavement if need be, according to Pastor Joe Morecraft in 2013), who most of all might not even be fully human or experience normal human emotions due to their lack of correct Jesusing. They use their self-declared label as a rationalization for trying to rob others of their rights.
History is replete with examples of what happens when this process is allowed to go too far. From slavery to the war crimes Japan committed against the people they called “logs,” from separate-but-equal laws to the designation of women as men’s property, nothing but harm and cruelty comes of such thinking.
Members of such a declared superior group invariably start mistreating the ones they consider inferior. And the people they mistreat usually have no recourse whatsoever, and no hope of finding justice in a system dominated by that superior group.
That’s why Paige Patterson lost his cushy seminary presidency in 2018: He systematically silenced sex-assault victims to protect the reputation of his school, and he told female domestic violence victims to meekly endure that abuse so their husbands would get convicted (ashamed, but in a really Jesusy way) enough to stop and become real true Christians at last.
Of course, the rest of that tribe still honors him as a great man and inspirational leader who got rousted unfairly out of his powerful position by lesser Christians who couldn’t understand his Jesus-osity. And boy oh boy, do they ever hate the guy who succeeded him!
The remnant might not actually be in churches anymore
Ten years ago, evangelicals gloated about the relatively faster decline of mainline and progressive churches. It’d never be them, they sneered, since they were so incredibly Jesusy that Jesus would always bless them with growth.
That smugness sure didn’t last. As it turned out, their rigid authoritarianism only held down a few extra butts in pews (BIPs, a measure of evangelical power) for a few extra years. Their rigid authoritarianism had made church membership seem a lot less optional than it really was. As the decline continued, year after year, even the most devoted evangelical BIPs realized that they could leave, and there was just nothing whatsoever that their church leaders could really do about it.
That’s when evangelicals’ decline began to keep up with and sometimes even outpace that of other flavors of Christianity.
Oh, I mean those leaders could write angry blog posts and books (archive) about their congregations quietly melting out “the back door.” Of course, the advice to church leaders was—and still is—always to drill down harder on authoritarian demands (archive) to make membership feel less optional. But in terms of real-world
Christian love retaliation, most of those leaving were generally safe for the first time in modern American history.
And, too, those leaders could write angry blog posts and books about how the remaining BIPs were the remnant, the truest of all true Christians, the realest-deal of everyone, while the departing members were the fakey-fake “Cultural Christian” fakers (archive) that everyone was happy to see leave.
But sooner or later, even the BIPs had to question that wisdom. It sure seemed like the people leaving had been extremely devoted. Many of those who’d left were happy to say exactly that. (You can often find them commenting on blog posts discussing that exact situation.) They became churchless believers, Christians who’d left church culture behind because it had first left them behind.
And now, the prettiest of the prettiest princesses!
The most arrogant evangelicals seem now to consider themselves the remnant of the remnant. Out of an already small number of pretty princesses, they’re the very prettiest of the pretty. As one pastor preached in 2015 on YouTube,
Within the remnant there is even those numbers that are even fewer.
So a remnant in the natural means a small portion of the original. Say you are making a dress. Those offshoots are a remnant of the original fabric that you’re using to make that dress. But here, we see God is saying ‘remnant of the remnant’. What is happening here?
See, the mark of a wise church is not how many people go to that church, but how many people fear the LORD and live differently as a result of being in that church. [. . .]
Are you the remnant of the remnant? He is coming back for the remnant of the remnant!“THE REMNANT OF THE REMNANT – PST ROBERT CLANCY” 2015, about 2:50-5:00
Strangely enough, though, this remnant of the remnant always looks like the usual grabby, power-maddened hypocrites we’ve always seen. Calling themselves lofty things doesn’t change who they are. It just makes them look worse. Calling themselves something even loftier only makes things even worse.
What’s next? The remnant of the remnant of the remnant, with honors, sir?
(Don’t ever think that we’ve hit rock bottom with evangelicals. They’ve always got a burning desire to dig ever-deeper. Sooner or later, that phrase will become evangelical reality.)
These remnant evangelicals don’t realize something important, though
If today’s evangelicals are what Jesus really wants, he’s welcome to them. I don’t believe an afterlife exists, but if Heaven did exist it sure wouldn’t be paradise with the remnant of the remnant there.
As for me, I’d rather be part of the vibrant, ever-unfurling tapestry of the human experience than a little piece cut off from it. I want to plunge into those colors, revel in the stitchery, glory in the smooth imperfect perfection of each hand-made stitch. I want to be part and parcel of the tapestry, to be part of the human situation, to be here now. That’s what I want: to mindfully watch its creation and add to it in any way that I can. However its last stitches get added, I want to be part of the whole.
For years now, it has astonished me that evangelicals can look at that tapestry, turn their noses up at it, and insist that they’re separate from it and far better than it could ever be. They’ve been making their own burlap abomination of a fake tapestry for years. They call this fake substitute perfect and praise it nonstop, while the real one flows behind them and past them and beyond them.
It’s just so picayune, so small, so petty. It’s looking at the glorious universe, its billions of years, the Laniakea supercluster, the filament threads flowing through the entire cosmos, and knowing that on a tiny sun-blasted, parched bit of rock, a Johnny-come-lately desert godling has ordered his tiny, ants-to-an-ant mortal followers not to get overly familiar with their own genitals for the 70 years or so that they’ll be alive.
The remnant are welcome to their Jesus, just as he’s welcome to them. I’d rather have reality. On this lovely Thanksgiving week, I’m thankful that so too, it seems, do growing numbers of other folks.