Future of Evangelicalism
Our Unevenly Distributed Future
Evangelical bloggers are not only able to gain significant influence, but are able to do so without scrutiny by a seminary, local church, or other ecclesiastical or institutional body. Indeed, some bloggers have found that their leadership on the web dwarfs the leverage they have within their local church (especially if they attend a megachurch).
This decentralization of ecclesiastical authority will have repercussions that are similar to, though likely greater than, the parachurch movement of previous generations. Whether they are Lutheran, Methodists, or Presbyterian, when it comes to religious engagement online, all bloggers act like Baptists.
3. The DIY Ethos
When the cost of personal technology decreases, the rate of experimentation increases. Processes which once required expensive equipment and professional expertise, such as filmmaking or audio production, can now be done by a child on a family's personal computer. The products created because of this access to powerful communication tools will affect the church in ways we can hardly fathom. But it is the DIY (do-it-yourself) mentality behind these processes that is likely to have the greatest significance for the church.
Evangelicals are, by nature, hands-on and pragmatic. We tend to adopt whatever tools are at hand to carry out the work of the church. A prime example is the use of low-cost publishing (e.g., gospel tracts) in personal evangelism. Whether handing out tracts was a proper or effective approach was often an afterthought. What was considered of most import was that with a handful of pamphlets, anyone-and everyone-could be an evangelist.
Similarly, a young Christian today, armed with only a smartphone, has all the tools necessary to be an apologist. When every Bible verse and evidentialist argument is only a few clicks away, all they need (or so they imagine) is the boldness to challenge the skeptics and critics of the faith.
While such DIY tools can be a boon to evangelism and outreach, they also have the potential to further encourage the pragmatic instrumentalism that reduces the Gospel message to a series of techniques. A robust evangelical theology of technology has been needed at least since the Second World War. But the urgency will become even greater over the next several decades.
One of the advantages we have in being late to fully adopt cultural trends is that we have time to observe their effects and prepare for them before they are evenly distributed throughout the evangelical church. If we are wise, we will prepare now to address the future that is already here.
Joe Carter is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the co-author, along with John Colemn, of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator.