I ran across this today. This evangelical minister is arguing that the current trend towards no religious beliefs isn’t a problem for evangelical Christianity.
So it is a fact that the number of people in the US who identify as non religious is on the rise. Various theories exist to explain this trend but whatever the cause it is happening. What he responds to in the article seems to be voices internal to Christianity who are arguing that evangelicals should be less political and more compassionate.
He sums up their arguments in two points.
• Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.
• The real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.
I can’t speak much to the second point since I don’t think there IS an orthodox (I.E. correct) version of Christianity. I can’t treat it as much more than an intellectual curiosity when two different versions of the same religion try to hash out which version is the “orthodox” one.
On the first point he simply denies that this is even happening. First he tries to claim that there is no exodus of believers at all, though the data simply doesn’t support that. It may not support the “disaster narrative” that more moderate believers are warning the evangelicals of, but it certainly isn’t non-existent. He claims that all of those leaving religion are actually from more moderate denominations and not the evangelical ones. This one is, at least, not entirely true. I came from a evangelical background and I know many other atheists who come from similar backgrounds. It’s true I don’t know the exact numbers leaving these organizations, but it’s not like this pastor gives us any indication he knows any real statistics on this issue either. There may not even BE any good numbers given the slightly muddled definition of “evangelical” and the fact that many churches do not keep very accurate roles of attendance, or properly remove people from their roles when they stop attending. Let’s take a look at a couple of his arguments though.
For the last several years, some Southern Baptist leaders have voiced concern about the decline in baptisms and membership.
But nobody is suggesting that orthodoxy is the reason for decline.
If anything, leaders are pointing to a lack of faithful evangelical preaching and intentional gospel witness as the culprit. Church history doesn’t bear out evidence that a mushy, heterodox movement is the cure for stagnation.
Typical avoidance. I’m quite sure no Baptists pastors are suggesting that orthodoxy is the reason for their decline. This says nothing about whether it is or not though. His reference to church history is both irrelevant to the current situation and highly biased. He fails to recognize that to many of his theological opponents it is HIS theology not theirs that is unorthodox.
Progressive hand-wringers are missing the point, in my view. If history teaches us anything, it is that what dies is malleable, un-rooted faith and not 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy.
Translation: what you really need to do is never change your mind about ANYTHING. That is the way to survive. Also this is a simply bizarre and overly simplistic interpretation of history. First off the notion that Christian teachings have not changed at all in 2,000 years is false on the face of it. Last time I checked Baptist evangelicals actually have a pretty big issue with the churches that had control for those first 1500 years. Christian faith has been (often reluctantly) malleable on a number of issues thorough the last 2,000 years.
All this doubling down on the need to be extra “orthodox” in order to survive reminds me of the reactions of some conservatives during the 2012 election. Many had convinced themselves they would win the presidency despite the figures saying that this was unlikely. After the loss there were more moderate Republicans saying that they needed to change their stances on certain issues in order to win elections, but the far right in the party essentially said “no, the problem is we weren’t conservative enough.” The fear of change was so strong that they would rather rationalize digging their heels in even further.
Instead of asking any tough questions the author continues by brining up quotes from Jesus.
“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
“If anyone does not hate his father or mother, he cannot be my disciple.”
“If any man will be my disciple, let me him take up his cross and follow me.”
This is one of the main problems I have with evangelicalism. It lacks capacity for self correction because when others disagree it just convinces them even more that they are right. Much like a conspiracy theorist who takes evidence against their position as just more proof of the conspiracy. It’s an echo chamber in which any voice of dissent, even that of a fellow believe, is not taken seriously. There is little to no reflection on whether or not this criticism is legitimate when it can simply be dismissed as people just hating them for being so right about everything.
He then goes on to claim that it is Christian dedication to orthodox beliefs that makes them so good at public service, even claiming:
Faithful Christians are not the only ones in the trenches, relieving human need – but they make up a large percentage.
I really wish he had presented some actual figures to back up this claim, as it is I have trouble taking it seriously. I’m not sure why these articles have to go to places like this anyway. I often see theists claim to do more social work, often defined in a very narrow way, and then use this claim to prop of the legitimacy of their religious views. It’s insulting and does nothing to address the very real problems we have with their treatment of people.