The problems are real—but exaggerated.
As a supplement to the ongoing series on evangelical distinctives, we’re including other voices in the conversation on what it means to be an evangelical Christian today. This contribution comes from Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has written recently about what he sees as a possible “crackup” that may be coming in the evangelical community. He sees a quiet version of that split already happening among the younger generation, many of whom seem to be moving in other directions: mainline Protestantism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy.
The more dramatic gap, as Douthat sees it, is between, on the one hand, the elites—“evangelical intellectuals and writers, and their friends in other Christian traditions,”—and those millions of folks, on the other hand, who worship in evangelical churches. It may be, he says, that these elites “have overestimated how much a serious theology has ever mattered to evangelicalism’s sociological success.” It could be that the views and attitudes on display in the recent support for rightist causes have really been there all along, without much of an interest in the kinds of intellectual-theological matters that have preoccupied the elites. If so, then the elites will eventually go off on their own, leaving behind an evangelicalism that is “less intellectual, more partisan, more racially segregated”—a movement that is in reality “not all that greatly changed” from what it has actually been in the past.
Douthat hopes he is wrong about this, and I think that he is. But his scenario has some support by increasing voices in the evangelical academy …
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