Most would agree that contemporary American evangelicalism has been a patchwork quilt of organizations and networks held together by a few central personalities, most notably Billy Graham. Yet the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently discovered that nearly one out of every three Americans under the age of 30 have never even heard of Billy Graham. 

And while younger evangelicals may hold to traditional values, they do not like how those values have been espoused.  In a previous Update, I discussed the research of Steve Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons; how many of many of those outside of the Christian faith, specifically those between the ages of 16-29, think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind. We’re seen as hyper-political, pushy in our beliefs, arrogant, homophobic, hypocritical, and judgmental. What I did not mention is how this is not simply the perception of young “outsiders,” but those inside the church as well. Young Christians are raising the same challenges and concerns to the Christian faith as those outside of the faith.

And younger evangelicals have little interest in the culture wars typified by the Moral Majority of the 80’s. Rather than critiquing culture, they are more interested in “making” it, engaging it, infiltrating it. So rather than condemning films, they want to make them; rather than simply condemn homosexuality, they want to redemptively embrace homosexuals as people and serve those most impacted by the AIDS pandemic; rather than immediately aligning all things “environmental” with a left-wing conspiracy, they want to go green and combat global warming. 

Historian George Marsden quipped in the opening line of Understanding Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism that “A fundamentalist is an Evangelical who is angry about something.” Ironically, this is exactly how many younger evangelicals would distance themselves from, well, evangelicalism.

They are evangelicals who are not angry about something.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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Sources

“The Evangelical Crackup,” by David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times Magazine, October 28, 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/magazine/28Evangelicals-t.html?em&ex=1194062400&en=fa9deb4b3195f80e&ei=5070).

“The Demise of the Religious Right?”, Chuck Colson, BreakPoint Commentary, delivered 10/30/2007 (http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=7179).

Martin E. Marty, A Nation of Behavers (Chicag  The University of Chicago Press, 1976), p. 80; 88.

On the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, see

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/november/12.18.html.

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).

George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 1.