Future of Faith
"That Hideous Strength" Is Evangelicalism's Text for the Future
At the heart of American Evangelicalism has always been an unhealthy alliance between the two types of Americans that Wallace Stegner has described as "boomers" and "stickers." Boomers are the industrialists, the progressives (in the general sense of believing in inevitable social progress, not the more specific political sense), the people who move from work to work, always in motion, always growing, always trying new things in hopes of earning more money or "advancing" society. Stickers are the Hobbits of the world, the people committed to a small way of life who tend to be less concerned with abstractions like "social progress" or even "economic growth," which is a kind of abstraction as well.
For most of our history and certainly since the Second Great Awakening we have attempted to blend these two approaches, mixing an emphasis on revival, innovative techniques for preaching the gospel, and for growing churches with a desire to retain our commitment to basic Christian orthodoxy and piety. Whether it is George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, Bill Hybels, or Mark Driscoll we evangelicals, like any good marketer hawking a product, have always had a talent for Americanizing our faith to suit the tastes of our target audience.
That alliance, however, is now collapsing. The boomers outside the church, who have always been averse to limitation, have now decided that even the natural design of our bodies should not limit our sexual expression just as their industrialist predecessors of the 19th century decided that the natural design of creation should not inhibit their ambition or wealth. And so the American business world has become one of the places most hostile to traditional Christian orthodoxy. This explains why "liberal" companies like Apple as well as more "conservative" companies like Walmart had the same reaction to religious freedom bills adopted in Indiana and Arkansas. Today's boomers have discovered that orthodoxy is bad for business. And so they have turned on orthodoxy.
The result of this will be that it will become more and more difficult for American evangelicals to cozily nestle in with the bourgeois bohemian establishment in modern America as they will increasingly be forced to choose between faithful Christian practice or their place in the mainstream world of middle-to-upper class Americans. As my friend Matthew Anderson noted on Twitter the other day, we will soon find out who the serious leaders of Evangelicalism are.
By necessity, this will also force a hard choice upon evangelicals. Though we have always had a foot in both the boomer and sticker worlds, the boomer side has been consistently winning out since the early 1980s when seeker-sensitive churches first began to emerge. Prior to that time Evangelicalism had tended to be a more poor to middle class tradition, plugging away on the margins of society while the mainline occupied the mainstream. It was in the 1970s and '80s that we began to be richer and part of the economic establishment. As a result of this shift we have become less and less familiar with the sticker tradition. In the years to come that will have to change as the business world becomes increasingly hostile to orthodoxy and as our legal system follows suit.
Jake Meador is a writer and editor from Lincoln, NE. He is an editor with Mere Orthodoxy and Fare Forward and serves on the board of the Davenant Trust. His work has also appeared in First Things, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today. He lives near downtown Lincoln with his wife Joie, daughter Davy Joy, and son Robert Wendell. Follow him on Twitter at @jake_meador.