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The Future of Evangelical Christianity with UPDATE in light of 2016 Republican Primaries and Trump's Success

Updated on February 28, 2016
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Chris spent 50 years in the Evangelical world as a layman, as a student at a prominent Christian University and as a missionary and pastor.

Source

Author's Note

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

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity
The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity

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
Timeframe
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

The Battle For The Bible
The Battle For The Bible

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

Francis Schaeffer And the Shaping of Evangelical America (Library of Religious Biography)
Francis Schaeffer And the Shaping of Evangelical America (Library of Religious Biography)

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

Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World
Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World

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.

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    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Stargrrl, Thanks for the comment. haha, it's been a while since this one has had a response. It gets quite a few page views, but not comments.

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      Stargrrl 2 years ago

      Very interesting and well written. Voted up.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Mand M S, Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I will look forward to having you on board and I will likewise enjoy following you and reading what you have to say.

    • Mandy M S profile image

      Mandy M S 4 years ago

      Very interesting. There is a change afoot, but you have given me some clarity on this change. Excellent article! I will be following you.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Welcome to HubPages NoCamo. Great to see you here. This fellow, Rob Bell, may pave the way. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Bell

      Start writing NoCamo, you have a lot to say on a lot of topics.

    • NoCamo profile image

      NoCamo 4 years ago

      And yes, I think it's precisely BECAUSE this obsolescence ( the fall of scriptural inerrancy ) that the remnant you speak of will gain greater and greater power by tapping the currents and using the power of the political process. Good thinking and writing Chris!

    • NoCamo profile image

      NoCamo 4 years ago

      This is excellent Chris. I agree with your analysis, although I think there will also be a further schism with a couple of splinters peeling off after either finding frustration with the slow process of Political Global Conquest, or a reversion to a "be ye separate" - a backlash sort of phenomena. Both will seek sanctuary back in their fundamental camps, while what's left of the movement soldiers on even after their weapons have been rendered obsolete. Evangelicalism's diaphanous slip is definitely showing. And it is exactly the Evangelical mind that gravitates toward and requires the support of these amorphous institutions. May we never be.

      No camouflage.

      No sheep.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      jonnycomelately, I agree completely that it all comes down to individuals. That is the ideal and the "ought to be." In reality, humans gather in groups, give the group a name and lose themselves in it. George Barna, pollster and forecaster of Evangelicalism, believes that the current emphasis on mega-churches is not sustainable. If he is correct, we may see an implosion of the whole Evangelical movement. Wouldn't it be great if all those Christians ended up in small house churches?

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      Cam, interesting reading thank you.

      If we tend to speak of "churches" as institutions, and think of them in that light during our deliberations, this tends to ignore the fact that human beings, individual persons, are the essence of religious bodies.

      Individuals make their own choices as to what they want to believe. They are responsible for their actions.

      In the debate this if often forgotten. We need to name and lay the onus on individuals, not amorphous institutions.

      IMHO

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