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Where Are Evangelicals headed in 2018?

January 9, 2018

I’m a formerly “card holding” Evangelical…. Many years since I became “progressive” I still pay close attention and tend to relationships with family and friends still “in the fold”.  Part of the reason is that “Evangelicalism”, under almost any definition one may give it, is a reflection of much of our culture.  Changes within it is one measure of broader cultural movement.  Conversely, may it be that changes among Evangelicals lead certain changes in broader society?

I’m linking to an article by the leading Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, which takes a brief look at the question of whether and how Evangelicalism may be “cracking up”. Or even changing significantly.  You can find it here.

Personally, I think 2018 will see at least as much change within Evangelical churches and institutions as recent years have seen.  I’m not foreseeing any significant “crack up” scenario. However, split-offs of certain churches or groups of them may continue. According to a Jan. 2 article in the same Christianity Today, a group of nearly 180 Mennonite congregations just officially split off from the Mennonite Church USA “related to disagreements over same-sex marriage”.

In this case, people wanted to remain more conservatively oriented.  In other cases, especially for individuals, people want to be more progressive and leave for reasons related to that.  Often they don’t find a comfortable church home elsewhere.  Some are fine with that, others not.  My 2018 hope is that more church and denominational leaders will start digging deeper… into their own faith, to begin.  That would include their doubts (starting with admitting they exist, on a variety of issues, even though these leaders are looked to for providing answers). 

After some honest and deep reflection, maybe accompanied by some “opposition research” and serious “paradigm” reconsideration, my prediction for them would be this: They will help lead Evangelical institutions further along the inevitable road of conforming closer to a post-postmodern reality.  Why “post-postmodern”? (A long term needing explanation.)

Not just “modern” in an overly rationalistic defense of orthodoxy, seen for over a century.  And not “postmodern” in leveling all differences (the very charge of many Evangelicals against “postmodernism”).  Maybe some additional leaders who take thinking seriously will find that systems like “Process thought” have provided a stronger, more consistent foundation than has “orthodoxy” (read: tradition/status quo) for robust and satisfying communities of faith.  Communities seeking “miracles” and spiritual growth but also concerned with care for the earth, for the oppressed, for the findings of science.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. marilyn jaye lewis permalink
    January 9, 2018 11:16 am

    I would add that encouraging Christians (Evangelical or otherwise) to truly study the history of Christianity — from the 1st Century through everything that led up to the Reformation and beyond — helps us see that Christianity has always been fluid. There has never simply been one specific way that Christians have believed. For me, personally, even while I am a theologian, learning the history of the Jesus Movement, hasn’t lessened my faith in The Way at all, but instead has filled me with awe over how Jesus’ message and reputation persists and grows. I understand how Evangelicals can feel that the tenets of Christianity are undone by “postmodernism,” but there simply was NEVER one specific way that Christianity was practiced. And thanks for the Christianity Today link!

    • January 9, 2018 3:02 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful and pertinent remarks! I totally agree that everyone in Western societies, and especially Evangelicals and other Christians, should be looking more deeply at Christian history. If nothing else, it’s fascinating! And you are spot-on in emphasizing the fluidity, from the very first, of Christianity (originally “The Way”, both Jewish and broader). There is a very wide-spread misconception that first century Christianity was single and unified, with only minor and soon-resolved differences.

  2. January 11, 2018 10:58 am

    Thoughtful and perceptive reflections, Howard. I think you may be a bit more optimistic than I am about the potential for the evangelical future. I do really like your notion of “post-postmodern reality”—I was pretty much thinking the exact same thing just the other day.

    I do note in Richard Mouw’s CT piece that he does not allude to Fuller’s apparently terrible financial crisis—and I also noted an article on the CT page about big troubles at Moody. So Mouw’s optimism might not be fully warranted.

    • January 20, 2018 7:24 am

      Ted, I don’t know how I missed your comment for so long… sorry. Thanks for the info. I didn’t know about financial troubles at Fuller or at Moody.

      My own Alma mater, Biola University, claims it is doing well, and from at least outward appearances, it would seem they are. But then they took a wise step a number of years ago, not directly related to theology it would seem… to start and grow a robust film school. Otherwise, I wonder if they might be struggling as well.

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