The Decline of Evangelical America

Speaking of Evangelicals, the New York Times:


It hasn’t been a good year for evangelicals. I should know. I’m one of them.

In 2012 we witnessed a collapse in American evangelicalism. The old religious right largely failed to affect the Republican primaries, much less the presidential election. Last month, Americans voted in favor of same-sex marriage in four states, while Florida voters rejected an amendment to restrict abortion.

Much has been said about conservative Christians and their need to retool politically. But that is a smaller story, riding on the back of a larger reality: Evangelicalism as we knew it in the 20th century is disintegrating.

In 2011 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled church leaders from around the world. Evangelical ministers from the United States reported a greater loss of influence than church leaders from any other country — with some 82 percent indicating that their movement was losing ground.

I grew up hearing tales of my grandfather, a pastor, praying with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. My father, also a pastor, prayed with George W. Bush in 2000. I now minister to my own congregation, which has grown to about 500, a tenfold increase, in the last four years (by God’s favor and grace, I believe). But, like most young evangelical ministers, I am less concerned with politics than with the exodus of my generation from the church.

Studies from established evangelical polling organizations — LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Barna Group — have found that a majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church, and often the faith, entirely.

As a contemporary of this generation (I’m 30), I embarked three years ago on a project to document the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. I did this research not only as an insider, but also as a former investigative journalist for an alt weekly.

I found that the structural supports of evangelicalism are quivering as a result of ground-shaking changes in American culture. Strategies that served evangelicals well just 15 years ago are now self- destructive. The more that evangelicals attempt to correct course, the more they splinter their movement. In coming years we will see the old evangelicalism whimper and wane…

Another obituary prematurely written ?



22 thoughts on “The Decline of Evangelical America

  1. The problem is really quite simple. The “Evangelicals” that the column above refers to were more political than they were evangelical. Christians are not called to run the government. Christians are called to “go and make disciples.”

  2. I wonder if it’s a good idea that Christians dirty their hands with politics in the first place?

    It kinda makes sense why to many, it’s like we’re running away from issues- it makes one think again about Jesus’ silence on politics other than give to Caesar what belongs to him and that His Kingdom is not earthly.

    I don’t know what to say. Catholics have historically been viewed with suspicion in America, so I really can’t relate to an American Evangelical decline. Was America even built upon Christian principles in the first place? I keep hearing deist/Masonic ideals all over.

    1. Part of the problem may be the seeming incoherence of Evangelicalism, I mean sure, I can have the patience to even consider trying to look into the theology, as a Roman Catholic, but try to come from an atheist perspective- they are without respect for anything transcendent, and are notoriously critical by using their “logic”. Socrates stated, via Plato, that “Truth” is a belief that is justified; it usually doesn’t end well when an Evangelical Christian tries to engage an atheist, because the Evangelical Christian sees a platform to talk about theology, rather than destroy the atheist perspective on the atheist “home territory”, so to speak.

      In these times of fast information and social media, things travel fast, and I wonder how quickly a Christian can respond to challenges and accusations atheists pose, because frankly the lies the tell about Our Lord, Our Faith, our Holy Writ, Our History, and all other things, have traveled quickly. Our attempts to address this situation is like Herakles cutting the head of a hydra- they keep reappearing and spewing venom, until we keep cutting the heads off, and burning the stumps.

      1. Ioannes, When you write, “…seeming incoherence of Evangelicalism …. they are without respect for anything transcendent, and are notoriously critical by using their “logic””, I wonder if you’ve ever really studied the history of Western Christendom from about 1000-1550. The rise of the Reformation is a direct result of the misuse of logic and reason by the scholastics that led people away from teh Gospel and Christ. Read the best of the early Reformers: Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Bucer, etc. Their rock is Scripture, Gospel, and Christ; not logic or reason.

        The basic message is pretty coherent: God provided Holy Scripture to be a sure guide for his Church and people, we’re all sinners, who can’t save ourselves, we’re all in need of a savior, Christ, who is God, died for our sins, we’re justified by our faith in Christ, and Christ provided for two primary sacraments to be properly administered by His Church to guide His people (baptism and eucharist).

        The coherence and essential truth of the basic message may be discerned by the impact it is having on the Global South in South America, Africa, and Asia. By 2050 South America will no longer by RC!

      2. Scripture does not interpret itself, an needs legitimate authority to make such interpretation. If we do say that Scripture interprets itself, we’d have to be generous and refer to cross-references of the Apostolic letters referring to the Old Testament, and the Old Testament, probably one of the prophets, referring to anything from the New Testament; the problem of the cycle of “Self-interpretation” is that any individual can make Scripture interpret itself so to fit their own ultimate interpretation of Scripture. Such is the human psyche- we can’t just “leave it to interpret itself” we have to make interpretations of any readings we get. It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s just literally impossible to NOT interpret it, and allow the book to interpret itself.

        If it interprets itself, why are there disagreements over how it does so? The truth is, the Church has the sole authority in interpreting Scripture and from such interpretations come dogma and law. To deny this authority is rebellion, and rebellion is the mark of Satan- don’t even bring up my own disagreements with the Church establishment, I know people who are not even in the Church, and that’s worse than mere disagreements with legitimate authority.

        The fact that there is no longer such a thing as legitimate human authority to interpret Scripture is appealing for those who wish to be atheist but still sees the moral necessity of a God, or the use of empty rituals. So then, it is easier to bend the words of Scripture to their own subjective interpretation.

        Is it such a shock that with the supposed departure from the Roman Catholic Church, the rise of evangelicalism is paired with the rise of secularism? No, it is not. For without the Church, logic and reason is merely atheism, and the Church without logic and reason is evangelicalism. The two heresies are linked by the synthesis of all heresies, which we call Modernism.

      3. Ioannes, Just two thoughts.

        First, NO book or work perfectly interprets itself! Take the US Constitution. Or the Koran. Or rabbis arguing over Torah and Talmud.

        If you focus on that which a majority of believing, confessing Christians have held for a very long time, you see a ton of agreement. And on very complex subjects. That includes: Trinity, creation from nothing, Incarnation, Virgin Birth, evil exists/the Devil, heaven & hell exist, there is a last judgment, we will be judged, the canon of the New Testament, we all are sinners, we all need a savior, Christ is our savior and all salvation is from him by Grace and is unmeritorious, we are justified by faith, Christians are called to love, Christians are called to act like Christians, sanctification is important to our life-long faith journey, there are two great sacraments specifically ordained by Christ (baptism & Eucharist), there is a Church, we are called to be a part of it, etc.

        Your complaint is that not everyone agrees that the Patriarch of Rome gets to interpret everything tied to faith and morals all by himself with no appeal and without any ties to other bishops or councils. Scripture seems clear to us (i.e., non-RCs) that your interpretation here is the unhistorical, radical, recent modernistic approoach. 😉

        You should read Melanchthon’s On the Power and Primacy of the Pope and study what popes were saying and doing right before and during the Reformation, both in religious and political spheres as well as their oft sordid personal lives. I think we can all agree that thank God Rome no longer has such non-religious temporal, political or monetary power and that we hold the man to far higher standards of personal propriety! 🙂

      4. Will people stop telling me to read Protestant apologetics? That’s like telling a Jew to read “Mein Kampf” to help them understand where this silly Holocaust business is coming from. Or it’s like me telling you to read a papal encyclical telling you how you’re incorrect and unreasonable, etc. Yes, you tell me to read books. They’re all opinions HERETICS, which strangely use the reason and logic that is supposedly bad in the first place.

        The fact that you would describe the authority of the supreme Papal authority as “modernist” just makes me work towards the return of temporal Papal authority, rather than rejoicing over the fact that the relativistic approach of protestants and orthodox have triumphed these days, and indeed this smoke of Satan has entered the Church.

        You simply can’t vote on what is right and wrong- your Arian Orthodox bishops from long ago, your dissenting Orthodox bishops during the Council of Florence, your rebellious Augustinian German monk, your Women Bishops proven again and again that the “People” can’t determine things through popular vote, no matter how much they claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit- there simply has been too much historical proof that shows the contrary- While you can cite corrupt Roman Popes, let me assure you- none of them has, at least openly, claimed to be atheist as much as the “Spirit-guided People of God” in Russia, Europe, or the Americas.

        Not a single Pope has done damage to Christ as much as the rebellious Protestant or the schismatic Orthodox, if not from their respective heresiarchs, then from their descendants who smashed Holy Images, and declared “There is no God” over the corpses of millions.

        I am not a Conciliarist- It is not by debates or popular votes that you get to do anything effective, but ultimately by something as concrete as sweat, blood and arms of the faithful. I am an unapologetic Papist. If it takes an armed group to wrest Europe from godless hands, so be it. Now the Orthodox and the Protestant can join, oppose, or get out of the way.

    2. If we’re talking about the masses or average Joes and Janes in each faith group/grouping, then we’re all pretty much in the same boat in the developed world.

      Terrible basic catechesis all around. If you want ignorance of Luther, ask a Lutheran about him. Same for Reformed and Calvin and Methodism and Wesley. Average RC is cafeteria driven.

      Sadly, here is America we see so much that isn’t evangelical or Christian. Prosperity gospel. Social gospel. Carnal Christians/non-sovereign Lord. Once-saved/always saved. It is all just about “saying” you’re a Christian without having to live like a Christian. Were is the deep personal piety and devotion shown on a daily basis by the Melanchthon’s and Wesley’s of the Reformation and its heirs? Where is the “simple” message of all things leading to Christ and Christ leading all things? That we are sinners, who can’t save ourselves, in need of a savior? Where is sanctification?

      But don’t despair or worry. Nominal and uninformed Christians have been in the majority for about 1600-1700 years! Nothing new here. The Church always “needs” low periods for reawakening and revival. Our God is sovereign and wise and provides for His people according to their real needs.

    1. Fr. Robert, You’re certainly far too kind. Thank you, though I don’t presume to add as much to the ongoing thoughts here of others, like yourself, who have me on age, wisdom, language, and theological degrees. 🙂

      1. I remember reading somewhere, that John Owen said he would trade all his theological degrees to be able to preach and move people the way John Bunyan did!

        And I so love to preach myself, but I am neither a John Owen or a John Bunyan. But I guess God just wants a willing man, who loves the Word of God! Here I am Lord, send me!

    2. That’s because he’s like your clone or something. It’s like falling in love with one’s own reflection. What’s the word for that? Narcissism? (Just kidding. I’m sure you both mean well.)

    3. Ioannes, You better be kidding. Or… 😉

      More like brilliant minds think alike. And remember, I’m former USAF and my son’s currently USN. My dad was USMC. Two of my uncles were US Army. I think you know Fr. Robert’s military background. During my time I enjoyed serving with both RAF and RAAF officers. Seemed like every base I went to, including Officer Training School, had at least one RAF “left-tennant”. And I’ve got great respect for Her Majesty’s Army, Navy, Marines, and special forces. (I love to study post-WW II British military strategy, procurement, tactics, basing, and force employment. Ever since I first climbed into Vulcan bombers and Victor tankers at Offutt AFB, Omaha NE in the late 1960s and 1970s during the annual Air Show. Last time I was there, a few years back, I toured a Nimrod ASW/surveillance plane (based on 1950s Comet airliner). Too bad all of these great planes are out of RAF inventory. Oh well, I digressed…)

      1. You two are lucky. My only connection to the army is through my grandfather.

        Other than that, I’ve only had an interest in target practice. Other military hardware doesn’t interest me as much as hitting the mark, whether by bow and arrow or an antique rifle.

      2. Btw, the Greek word Hamartia, translated Sin, in etymology, means literally, “missing the mark”! And without the Holy or Sacred Scripture, the revelation of God itself… “we” all miss the mark, comprehensively!

      3. Semper Fi! 🙂 My father so loved to fly! He had his own P-51 American Mustag he raced, well into his 60’s. In fact he flew and was doing some flight-instruction into his early 80’s. Died at 88! God knows I miss that man! RIP Dad!

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