The Patheos Series on The Future of Evangelicalism

I was pleased to be asked to write an entry in Patheos’ series on The Future of Evangelicalism. My piece is called The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism and you can read it here.

If you just want the bottom line, here is my conclusion.

The next decade of evangelical life will be hotly contested within the group we’d consider as convictional Christians. The question, as Baylor theologian Roger Olson wrote this month, is whether the evangelical tent is large enough to handle the discussions and differences.

It would serve evangelicals well in the coming decade to return to David Bebbington’sdefinitional criteria for evangelicalism: high regard for scripture, the importance of Christ’s death on the cross, the need for conversion, and the need to share God’s Good News.

If evangelicalism can focus on affirming these core principles, even while disagreeing on broader issues, its impact on society will be substantial. If evangelicalism can’t build a big enough tent around those central pillars, it will mire in conflict and fade into irrelevance.

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5 thoughts on “The Patheos Series on The Future of Evangelicalism

  1. Part of the difficulty with Bebbington (and other definitions) is the angle of view. As a retrospective definition, looking at the movements that are now considered to be in the Evangelical tradition, current conflicts that drive the movement AS IT CURRENTLY EXISTS can be overlooked. Every tradition is formed by its internal interpretive debates (What does it mean to be an Evangelical? How do we live out the key elements of evangelical Christianity [whichever list we use]?) as well as external conflicts (Who is the Other that challenges our core convictions now? What change can we allow while remaining faithful to our tradition?). The harder work is to draw analogies between the conflicts that brought our tradition to where it is today and those that currently seek to shape our future. Glad you’re working on this.

    1. Thanks, Richard.

      Part of what I’m after is a follow-up to Olson’s point. Take Bebbington’s “high view of scripture” for example. Somehow that means that “progressives” seeking broad scriptural themes (what Wesley called the Arc of Scripture) can talk to those “conservatives” who want to exegete specific passages. One is not more scriptural than the other. But there would be a clear separation between those evangelicals who work to take scripture seriously from those cultural Christians who conflate Americanism with faith or those Fundamentalists interested in calling out those different than themselves. With some work, we could come up with similar commonalities for the other three criteria. But that’s some of the big tent stuff that Roger was calling for.

      1. Have you read Alan Petigny’s The Permissive Society? He pushes the changes we normally associate with the 1960s back into the post WW2 period. It tracks well with Bergler’s Juvenilization of American Christianity.

  2. No I haven’t. But I tend to see the 50s-60s as an aberration from life before WW2 or after Vietnam. It’s why I think the evangelical surge of the 70s and 80s is an aberration and not an ongoing trendline.

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