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The current state of American evangelicalism

Is evangelicalism declining, maybe dying, or even dead? You don’t have to look around very long to find posts arguing precisely this. Most famously, Michael Spencer argued that This is the End……of Evangelicalism, my Friend and presaged The Coming Evangelical Collapse in a series of posts that sparked considerable discussion.  Many other authors have presented similar ideas while prophesying the end of evangelicalism.

Before commenting further it’s worth noting that we’re only talking about American evangelicalism here. Our international brethren must find it very frustrating when we critique evangelicalism as though American evangelicalism were its only expressions. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, we need to recognize that evangelicalism is a much broader and more diverse movement than we often recognize.

But, despite these claims of evangelicalism’s untimely demise, others beg to differ. In a recent First Things article, Byron Johnson argues that American evangelicalism is alive and well. His basic argument involves the following two basic claims:

  • American evangelicalism is not declining despite statistical evidence to the contrary. His basic argument here has to do with the failure of recent surveys to account for several key realities: (1) nondenominational church members are largely evangelical but often represent themselves as “unaffiliated” or even as having “no religion” (which raises its own issues); (2) evangelical denominations grew 156% from 1960 to 2000; and (3) self-reported atheists still account for only 4% of the population.
  • American evangelicals are not becoming social liberals. In fact, Johnson argues that younger evangelicals are often more conservatives than previous evangelicals and their non-evangelical counterparts.

Johnson thus concludes:

Leading religious observers claim that evangelicalism is shrinking and the next generation of evangelicals is becoming less religious and more secular, but (as we social scientists like to say) these are empirical questions, and the evidence shows that neither of these claims is true. The number of evangelicals remains high, and their percentage among practicing Christians in America is, if anything, rising. Young evangelicals are not turning to more liberal positions on controversial social issues; in some cases they are becoming more conservative than their parents. Perhaps young evangelicals have become more socially aware and have a longer, broader list of social concerns, but they remain socially conservative.

As with most things, I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in between. The facade of American evangelicalism has developed a number of cracks in recent years, cracks that threaten to widen and permanently scar evangelicalism in years to come. At the same time, American evangelicalism retains a degree of vitality seldom recognized by its critics. I don’t know for sure what the future holds, but it should be interesting.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/18)

David was a man after God’s own heart because he hated sin but loved to forgive it. What better example of God could there be?

  • A recent BBC article asks, Does more information mean we know less? Along the way, it presents an interesting comparison between our modern compulsion to stay “current” with the religious impulse to reflect deeply on the past. (HT)

We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than St Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.

One of the silly characteristics of our age is the credulous and naive veneration of science. It has led to the emergence of what we call scientism–faith in science as the ultimate source of truth and wisdom.

  • And, a in Orange County, a cat has been ordered to report for jury duty. Of course, this rather odd situation was partially caused by someone who saw the cat as such a part of the family that she listed it on the family’s census form. Why would you do that?

Flotsam and jetsam (8/4)

  • Last week I linked to an Inside Higher Ed article on anti-Christian sentiment in higher education. NPR has now produced an article of their own on the subject. And here’s a similar discussion from Christian Post.
  • Gary Cutting discusses the relationship of philosophy and faith by addressing the difficulties that all people face when dealing with arguments for and against the existence of God. HT
  • Out of UR has posted the first two parts of a video discussion between Mark Dever, Skye Jethani and Jim Wallis on social justice and the Gospel (part 1 and part 2). Obviously, they bring very different perspectives to the table, so it’s worth checking out.
  • And, apparently monkeys hate flying squirrels. According to “monkey-annoyance experts,” one of the best ways to annoy a monkey is to place it in proximity to a flying squirrel. The best thing about this article is discovering that there are people out there who make a living out of annoying monkeys. HT

Flotsam and jetsam (6/3)