Future of Evangelicalism
New Ways of Shaping Society
Demographically, evangelicals are going to be bigger players in certain communities. They are becoming more prominent in the Asian-American community and they are building more international ties. That's going to change evangelicals and their cultural influence. To take just one small example, look at the number of American churches now that are sponsoring short-term missions initiatives. Previous generations of evangelicals would send a small number of professional missionaries who would stay in the field their entire career. Yet evangelicals today are funding hundreds of people to go and do short-term work for two or three weeks. That's not only increasing their global reach, it's also making more evangelicals aware of global issues than ever before. It's increasing those relational ties, and evangelicals are going to be better global citizens because they care about what's going on in Zimbabwe and Indonesia. That demographic shift is very important, and one that hasn't been attended to as well as it ought to be.
Then, institutions that used to be off-limits for evangelicals, either because they were excluded or because they had no interest in being part of them, are more open to evangelicals joining their ranks than ever before. Harvard is a great example, but you can see this happening in the arts as well as in higher education. Think about the Museum of Biblical Arts (MOBiA), which is located in New York. It's now seen as a very legitimate player in the world of high art, and it has generated respect from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That creates more opportunities for Christians interested in the arts, and for those Christians who care about using their faith to influence the artistic world.
The more of those kinds of successful ventures evangelicals can have, the more likely they are to play a role in changing the conversation in the upper reaches of American society.
The great temptation that must be borne in mind is acculturation. Evangelicals are not immune to that temptation in any way, shape, or form. That's a great peril, and I don't hear enough pastors talking about how their congregations can retain their Christian identity in the midst of pressures to accommodate to the surrounding culture. Pastors need to explain how they can be qualitatively different from others -- how they can be more faithful, more loving, even more righteous than others. The only way we will decisively demonstrate our distinctive difference is when we are willing to give up the privileges that come with the cultural influence we wield.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.