The Future of Evangelical Christianity with UPDATE in light of 2016 Republican Primaries and Trump's Success
The Update to this article is near the bottom, beginning with the quote in a grey box by Pastor Robert Jeffress. Also included is a new video of Jerry Falwell Jr on Fox News.
"The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity" by Soong-Chan Rah
Soong-Chan Rah is Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL
Summation of Two Preceding Articles on Evangelical Christianity
Evangelical Christianity in America is headed in a very predictable and unoriginal direction. This is my third of three articles describing who evangelicals are, what they believe and where they are headed. There are links to the other two articles at the end of this one.
I'd like to briefly sum up the main points so far. Evangelical Christianity has its roots in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The doctrines of the authority of the Bible and salvation by faith alone, are the backbone of the movement. In the early twentieth century, the Fundamentalists were predominant in the protestant camp, but many felt that Fundamentalism was too narrow minded. Eventually the movement organized, distanced itself from Fundamentalism and became known as Evangelicalism or Evangelical Christianity. Today it is the powerhouse of Protestant Christianity.
Four Historically Important Periods of Evangelicalism
Significant national impact
Missionary outreach abroad and Revivalism at home
Early to mid 20th century
The debate over the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible
1970s and 1980s
The anti-abortion/pro-life movement
1960s to present
The politicization of the Evangelical Movement
1980s to the present
Where Evangelicalism is Headed
So, where are Evangelicals headed. The answer is partly about what issues they will let go, what issues they will hold onto and what new issues they will pick up. Here are my predictions in regards to these three categories.
"The Battle for the Bible" by Harold Lindsell
First published in 1976, this book produced a firestorm of a debate which more clearly drew the boundaries between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists on one side and Christian liberals on the other side. Nearly four decades after Harold Lindsell touched off a socio-religious bombshell, we are still feeling the impact. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand the contemporary Evangelical Movement in America.
The Issue Which Future Evangelicalism Will Let Go
1. There is one overriding issue, a theological one, which they will let go. This "letting go" actually began in the 1970s and 1980s with the biblical inerrancy debate. Simply put, inerrancy of the Bible means that the Bible was inspired by God down to the very words. According to its adherents, there was no error in the original manuscripts of the books of the protestant Bible. This is closely linked to the belief in the infallibility of the Bible. This means that the Bible, if believed and followed, will not lead a person into error; it is trustworthy. Various Christian denominations and seminaries dropped their commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible, but retained a strong commitment to its infallibility. Two such seminaries were Princeton and Fuller. So biblical inerrancy is the issue that Evangelical Christianity will drop, in favor of a renewed emphasis on the infallibility of the Bible. At first this will occur as an informal de-emphasis of biblical inerrancy, but will end as an outright rejection of this fundamental doctrine.
"Francis Schaeffer And the Shaping of Evangelical America" by Barry Hankins
It is, in short, impossible to understand the intellectual world of evangelicalism today without understanding Francis Schaeffer.
The Issue Which Future Evangelicalism Will Retain and Reinforce
2. The issue Evangelicals will retain and reinforce from their past is the pro-life/anti-abortion position. The following quote is by Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard, November 7, 2011: "If only the media knew. They have missed the most important breakthrough in the struggle over abortion in years: the resurgence of the pro-life crusade. The press elite was beaten on the story by publications such as Christianity Today (“The New Pro-Life Surge”) and Baptist Press (“5 Reasons the Pro-Life Movement is Winning”). That the pro-life movement is bigger is a given. It’s also younger, increasingly entrepreneurial, more strategic in its thinking, better organized, tougher in dealing with allies and enemies alike, almost wildly ambitious, and more relentless than ever.
All that is dwarfed by an even bigger change. Pro-lifers have captured the high moral ground, chiefly thanks to advances in the quality of sonograms. Once fuzzy, sonograms now provide a high-resolution picture of the unborn child in the womb. Fetuses have become babies."
The abortion/anti-abortion debate is not going to go away. In fact it will intensify, very possibly to the point of a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning abortion.
"Futurecast" by George Barna
In Futurecast, bestselling author and renowned researcher George Barna presents a timely look at the world we’re creating every day, and offers solid data to show the path our country is on and the emerging trends that will shape our world—and change each of our lives.
The Issue Which Will Define Future Evangelicalism
3. The issue that the Evangelical movement will pick up, has actually already been grasped by them. If we think the Religious Right is politically oriented now, just wait. We are only seeing the beginning. Why would I say this? Look at Judeo-Christian history. In the Hebrew writings, Israel began as one man, Abraham. Then it was his family. The family grew to the point that it was millions of people. Then they got a king. Israel became a political entity. Consider the Early Church. In Rome it was at first ignored, then tolerated, followed by being outlawed, then accepted and finally named the religion of the Empire. From then on, the Roman Church was primarily a political organization. The Reformation followed in suit. It began as a spiritual/religious movement and morphed into European States such as England, Scotland and the Baltic States.
We could go on, but the pattern is set. A spiritual/religious movement rises up, becomes powerful and ends up flexing its muscle in the political arenas of the day. It has happened repeatedly enough, that I believe it is a pattern. The dominant religious power ultimately becomes a mighty political power. The politicization of the Religious Right is only in its infancy.
Evangelicals are the heart of the Tea Party Movement. There really isn't any reason why this will not continue. Evangelicals will become such a dominant political force that they will win sufficient seats in Congress to set the political agenda for the country.
All of the political power they gain will come with a price. Evangelicalism will lose its identity and America will be prime for one of two outcomes. Either a Christian Revival will give birth to Evangelicalism's successor, or the predominant religion will be something other than Christianity. Very likely both will occur.
I think many evangelicals have come to the conclusion we can no longer depend upon government to uphold traditional biblical values. Let's just let government solve practical problems like immigration, the economy and national security. And if that's all we're looking for government to do, then we don't need a spiritual giant in the White House.— Pastor Robert Jeffress, First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas
Author's Update, 28 February 2016
At this point in the Republican presidential primaries, Donald Trump running a powerful campaign that appears to be unstoppable and Evangelicals are making the difference. This seems to contradict what I have predicted in this article, that conservatives will continue to press the issue of abortion will dominate the party. Donald Trump does not appear to be solidly pro life, and he has sent mixed messages regarding gay marriage. Trumps status as a Christian has been questioned by both Pope Francis and Pastor Max Lucado. So what are Evangelicals up to in this election cycle? Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, has had Trump and other presidential candidates speak at his church. Here is how Jeffress explains what is happening among Evangelical voters at this time.
I think the same-sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court last June was a watershed moment for evangelical Christians. I think in a strange way, that same-sex marriage ruling actually made evangelicals more open to a secular candidate like Donald Trump and here's why. I think many evangelicals have come to the conclusion we can no longer depend upon government to uphold traditional biblical values. Let's just let government solve practical problems like immigration, the economy and national security. And if that's all we're looking for government to do, then we don't need a spiritual giant in the White House. We need a strong leader and a problem solver, hence many Christians are open to a secular candidate like Donald Trump.
Jerry Falwell Jr on Trumps Evangelical Appeal
What Does it Mean
Does the voting behavior of Evangelicals during the 2016 primaries signal that they have given up the idea of legislating Christian values in America? That scenario is highly unlikely. When conservatives feel that the economy of the United States has been saved, they will be back with their social issues with a fervor.