The Future and Past of Evangelicalism

This month’s Christianity Today has two articles that I found to be an interesting pairing. One addresses the exodus of young Christians from the church (first chapter of book on which it’s based for free here), the other is a touching remembrance of Vernon Grounds.

The article on Grounds resonated with me as it followed his journey away from fundamentalism and into a broader evangelicalism. He was a leading figure in bringing the need for social action to the attention of evangelicals.

In light of the leadership of evangelicalism now being given by many more conservative folks, especially the separating of social action from the gospel, I found this history to be important and refreshing.

One piece of the journey that I found particularly interesting was that his early years seemed to be more focused on apologetics, and the latter years provided the venue for his prescient calls to social engagement. (That may be a mistaken impression.) And there I found a striking connection with the other essay.

Drew Dyck’s “The Leavers” strives to give a balanced assessment of both the reality of young people leaving the church and the prognosis for their return. There are several sociological factors that make a return with the advent of marriage and children less likely than it was in earlier generations.

But the point that interested me most was when he probed the reasons given for folks leaving.

    Almost to a person, the leavers with whom I spoke recalled that, before leaving the faith, they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts. Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking “insolent questions.” Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them.

I’ve only had one or two Tweets ever go viral. One that did was when I said, “Apologetics is bad for my soul. I’d rather have no answer to my doubts than a bad one.” Or something like that.

At any rate, the “apologetics” connection was what struck me here. Not that apologetics is bad, but it doesn’t really work for me, and for some others. In particular, it gives people answers to questions that they often haven’t asked themselves and therefore cannot feel the weight of. The answer seems to work because they’ve never had to use it to minister to their own heart or mind.

Both articles in their own way point toward one important marker of viable faith for the future. People who have been trained to think of Christianity as a set of statements believed have to redefine faithful Christianity in terms of a life well lived.

Thinking the right things is important, but living the right things provides powerful validation when all the correctly spoken answers widely miss the mark.

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