Watch Evangelicals Lose Their Young

Watch Evangelicals Lose Their Young January 24, 2013

Two posts of note today.

I don’t often re-post stuff from Rachel Held Evans, mainly because I assume that you all read her already. Her posts are, almost without exception, worth reading. But today’s post was, I think, a watershed post for her (and probably for many post-evangelicals). The talk for many years has been around Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. His conclusion: There isn’t an evangelical mind.

Well, that was nearly 20 years ago. Evangelicals have done their best to mitigate that, starting Books & Culture and academic societies and the like.

But, Rachel tells us, that’s not the real problem. That’s not what’s driven her from evangelicalism.

Rachel leaving evangelicalism because evangelicalism lacks a heart:

But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart…

I heard a theology professor explain the other day that he had no problem whatsoever with God orchestrating evil acts to accomplish God’s will, for that is what is required for God to be fully sovereign! When asked if this does not make God something of a monster, he responded that it didn’t matter; God is God—end of story.

Some will argue with Rachel, saying that the Calvinism she criticizes is just one stream of evangelicalism. Scot McKnight will tell her to look also to anabaptists, and Roger Olsen will tell her to look at Arminians. But the problem for those guys is that Calvinism is so regnant, so dominant in evangelicalism these days that it’s all that Rachel and others hear. Even here in Malaysia, no one knows Scot or Roger, but they know DA Carson and Mark Driscoll and John Piper and Tim Keller and Al Mohler. Every one of those names is well-known among the pastors I’m meeting.


And there’s a similar thing going on on a new blog that I hope you’ll follow.

I first met Darrell Dow on my August trip to Sri Lanka. I quickly determined that he and I had exactly 0% in common. Several members of that trip had grown up, like the trip leader Matthew Paul Turner, in a very conservative branch of evangelicalism. They knew all the same names, attended the same colleges, and were mad at the same people. And while a couple of the trip members had rethought their faith and politics, it seemed to me that Darrell had rethought neither. He mocked the dysfunctional culture of fundamentalism, but he had not reconsidered the theology and politics that gave rise to it.

Until now. Darrell has undertaken a courageous and possibly platform-destroying experiment. He is spending a year supporting President Obama.

In light of what we heard this week from Mark Driscoll, it’s clear the absolute and unmitigated antipathy with which many conservatives Christians hold the president. Darrell was among that number, and he’s writing about it quite honestly:

You see, there was a time (a.k.a a couple months ago) when thirty seconds of the President’s voice coming out of my radio was enough to make me want to switch the station. It set my teeth on edge listening to “that liberal” talk and I just assumed that whatever he said would be lies and spin.

Currently, Darrell is listening to BO’s autobiography, read by BO himself. And what Darrell is experiencing is empathy, even sympathy:

It turns out that there much that Obama and I held in common than I had known. He grew up on an island. So did I. He spent time abroad absorbing a completely different cultural context. So did I. Suddenly as I listened I wasn’t hearing “that Democrat” anymore, I was hearing the story of a boy who they used to call “Barry” who had hardworking Midwestern grandparents and a dad from Kenya. He was a child who grew up seeing poverty and struggling with his identity in a world that can be a very cruel and unjust place to live. So was I.


Years ago, I was invited to speak for a day at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was introduced to the assembled professors and PhD students by Professor Dave Adams (now at Liberty University) with these words: “As Southern Baptists, we don’t learn well from those with whom we disagree. And that is a problem. Today we’re going to listen to Tony Jones. We’re not going to argue with him, and we’re not going to debate him. There are other days for that. Today is a day to listen, and to learn.”

And they did.

But I doubt that would happen today. Few members of that tribe would think they have anything to learn from me.

But you know who they should listen to, and learn from? Rachel and Darrell, two members of their own tribe who are rethinking, well, just about everything.

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  • I really believe that we are in a time of judgment. Maybe not THE day of judgment. But I do think that having the sort of freedom, knowledge and exposure to the world that we have never had before, the reality of our hearts and devotions are being revealed. It is interesting, in a perverse sort of way, to see the lengths to which people will go in service to ideas about God’s will rather than God’s will itself. (A law maker in New Mexico has introduced legislation which would prevent women who became pregnant by rape from obtaining abortions for example.)

    I really believe that the church is going to appear to be self-destructing for a while, but what is left will be those who know God – Love – in spirit and truth. In the meantime, a lot of hardheaded and hard hearted people are going to be coming to know that sick feel that happens when you realize that you have been very, very, horribly wrong.

    • This is sensitively and hopefully stated. I hope your prophecy comes true! 🙂 I am trying to raise a child in this madness, so the sooner the better 🙂

  • great post… I am sorta kinda post-evangelical. Yet I am so drawn to my memories of the positives of evangelicalism that brought me the good news of Jesus. I am completely sickened by Driscoll and the Neo-Calvinists. I say that I am on the very left edge of evagelicalism but that identifying marker is fastly fading

  • Tom

    You say she was part of the evangelical camp, she never was. She is a liberal who has attacked the Bible time and time again. She is no more an evangelical than Tony Jones who posted this piece. I really do hope she gets saved, but she was never one of us.

    • ZPG

      Thanks so much for the constructive feedback, Tom. Let me add that your opinion means everything to the few of us who are true, authentic Christians, and we greatly appreciate your brilliant perspective on who’s Christian and who’s not. I’m deeply grateful for your God given insight into the hearts of men, and even those pesky women like RHE (Gosh, I just can’t bring myself to even write her full name, given her obviously liberal nature).

      Oh, and if I could pull you away from your intensive bible study for just a brief, fleeting moment, I do have one very simple question for you, Tom: Who would ever want to be one of you, and what makes you think you’re part of anything worth being a part of to begin with, you self righteous pharisaic asshole.

    • Exhibit A.

      “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:17

      You must be very special to have been given super secret x-ray spectacles to see the heart as the Lord sees the heart. Impressive super power you have there.

    • Rich

      What Tom said, mostly. RHE represents the liberal mainstream, nothing more. She gives itching ears what they want to hear, rather the Gospel. She still likes aspects of the Gospel (the parts that fit with her postmodern sensibilities), so she’s not entirely apostate. But when she spends much of her time mocking portions of the Bible, you know she doesn’t serve the same Lord. At least, with “friends” like her, why would God need enemies?

      • So you are arguing for a works based Christianity instead of a salvation based one?

      • It always amuses me the way the “ear tickler” accusation gets thrown around. There’s nothing more common, more universally accepted and more fervently defended than angry, wrathful deities. If you’re looking to tell people what they want to hear, this is exactly what you’ll give them. In fact, the verse that phrase comes from says that people will not endure sound doctrine, but will prefer myth. Like say, the rapture? Left Behind? Sinner’s in the hands of an angry God? To name a few. Meanwhile, messages of love, humility, service and such are honored mostly in the breach. But let someone embrace them and out comes the accusations of “ear tickling”. Sure, there are ear ticklers, but those would be the ones giving people the same sort of things they have always been most open to and desirous of – fear, wrath, condemnation – especially for those folks over there. Like I said, it’s quite amusing really.

    • aaron

      Don’t feed the troll

  • CD

    Brilliant job reinforcing Tony’s point, Tom. This is why a large swath of very bright and talented members of the next generation (from Tony to Rachel to Matthew to me) have left the evangelical building with not much interest in looking back….

    • Amen. When I get asked if I am an evangelical I have to ask how they are defining it. Do they mean I believe in a personal faith, uniqueness of Jesus, authority of Scripture? Yes, I definitely am. Do they mean I’m a political conservative who feels like my job is to judge everyone else who isn’t quite like me? No.

  • Jeremy K

    ZPG FTW!

  • Rich

    And for the fools on here who say we can’t judge other people, you might want to actually pick up your freaking Bibles for once and see what God says about judging those who claim Christ. Jesus said DO IT! Repeatedly. Paul said don’t even eat with false teachers. And yet, 21st century Christians can’t make such distinctions. We’re wiser and more kind than Jesus or Paul, apparently. {FACEPALM}

    • Yes, Rich, (metaphorical) violence is the answer.

    • Rich, maybe we have different Bible’s . Mine says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:4

    • Chris


      In John 21, Jesus tells Peter when asking about John “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You—follow me.” I think that is bigger than that, we need to each follow Christ ourselves not judge others. In other words, God gets to decide who enters the Kingdom not you nor I.

      Secondarily, Christ also tells the disciples earlier that they are not stop people who are casting out demons in Jesus name even if they arent followers. In Mark 9, Jesus says “Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.”

      So it would seem that Jesus has a very different opinion about this…

  • ZPG

    Thanks, Rich, and I mean that from the heart! I’m deeply appreciative of your courageous stance on all that is good and decent in this sick world. That means everything me, as I was beginning to wonder whether there were any true Christians left on this planet! If only we had more malformed–sorry, reformed–folks such as yourself who weren’t afraid to stand up and speak the truth of God’s word–shit, I mean “Word” (capital “W”, thank you very much)–to Tony’s generally apostate audience, then God’s love would gently fall and wash over them like the radioactive black rain from a massive atomic blast. I’m sure I speak for the remaining true Christians who aren’t afraid to pick up their freakin bibles and repeatedly confront liberal postmodern Christianity, whatever that, uh, means, and judge all the unrighteous people who don’t see things exactly as we do. Thanks also for reminding us that Jesus said DO IT—just like that shoe commercial, right?! Fuckin A, bro!

  • Now all we need is for someone to write a piece arguing that Evangelicalism has no courage, and we can send it off to see the Wizard.

  • EJ

    Hi Tony,

    As a Malaysian layperson, I’m surprised to read your observations that the christian pastors you’ve met in Malaysia don’t know about Scot McKnight or Roger Olson. I thought there ought to be a good number of Arminians at STM.

    (Perhaps they haven’t met Sivin Kit yet, since he introduced me to those two–just kidding)

    But reading those two helped me a lot when I went through some of the same struggles that Rachel articulated.

    I still face that tension inside whenever I’m around with evangelical friends, but I’m quite alright with that.

    Would be nice to be able to meet you in person but I’m up north.


  • Dan

    Maybe it is not a question of Evangelicals losing their young as much as folks being kidnapped by the skeptical academic intelligentsia. Mom and dad and pastor Joe down the street are often no match for the relentless bombardment of ideas from the “academics” who are skilled in the task of herding freshman undergrads into the camps of naturalism, postmodern skepticism, and extreme confidence that “bible-belt” folks are universally coarse, bigoted and uneducated morons. And once indoctrinated, no one is more committed than a convert.

  • KRS

    I do not mean to be disrespectful, but is ZPG real or is someone making fun? I cannot imagine Jesus speaking to another human being like that. To use the image of radio-active fall out for love seems harsh. If God is love, does that make him the atomic bomb?

    • Curtis

      Jesus instructs us to pluck out and throw away our eyes, and cut off and throw away our hands, when they cause us to sin. Sounds like about the same language to me.

      Just because you don’t understand a metaphor does not make the metaphor inhumane.

  • Donny Dunn

    Thanks for the post. I need to read Rachel’s blog more. I could have sworn from Evolving in Monkey Town that she really was an evangelical at one time, contrary to what Tom said above. And, congratulations on getting that x-ray thingy Rebecca mentioned.

  • Did I miss something? Did Rachel say she’s no longer an evangelical?

    • Bobby

      Based on what I’ve read of her blog, I don’t think she’d say she’s not evangelical. Perhaps more like a reformer in the vein of John Wesley trying to reform the Anglican church.

  • Bobby

    Had the same experience with Obama that Dow had. One day I just thought, you know, this guy’s a human like all the rest. He puts socks on, gets angry, likes a good joke, etc.

    I thought: what if I met Obama not as a President being adored or hated on the evening news, but as a guy waiting in line with me for take out, or in the dentist’s office? Would I automatically hate him? Probably not. We’d introduce ourselves, shake hands, chat about things, find things we agree on or are both knowledgeable about to keep the conversation going, and likely establish a positive rapport before ever going into politics.

    When you think of people that way, from Christian big wigs to politicians, as Tony indicated, the empathy level goes up and while there’s still disagreement, it’s with an actual human, not the caricature given by the news, or blogs, or the radio.

  • Phil Miller

    I find a lot of truth in this piece. I have seen people do some very despicable things in the name of being theologically correct, and, well I think one has to be in willful state of denial to say that it doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, some of the meanest people I’ve met in my life have professed to be Christians.

  • Tina

    I’m pretty sure Rachel hasn’t left evangelicalism. Can you double check that?

    • “I’ve left evangelicalism.” That statement has virtually no meaning, as evangelicalism is not a bounded-set.

  • Rick

    So Darrel Dow in the last few months is willing to see a high-profile Democrat as a three-dimensional person, one who may be much more substantial than the caricature of him that is paraded in conservative circles? And that’s courage? I grew up in conservative religious circles, and by the time I was halfway through college at a Christian university I realized evangelicals (at least politically) were full of shit. So as someone who got there 25 years ago, I guess I should welcome Darrel into the light of day.

  • T.S.Gay

    I came into Christianity reading John Wesley……very Arminian. I have literally been a reader of Jesus Creed since 2004. I live in the fourth largest Anabaptist community in the world. Neo-reformed theology has always been an anathema to me. People say if you haven’t anything good to say, don’t. But I can’t help it. To me the people I am most drawn into conversation with are the one’s who don’t think they know it all- those who are open( Rob Davis comes to mind, because we aren’t on the same page, but can listen to each other- the Calvinist’s are, in general. a closed group). But who influenced me more than any other evangelical was the internet monk. No disrespect to Chaplain Mike, but that blog was over when Michael Spencer left us. Internet monk’s take on the collapse of evangelicalism is apropos to any talk about evangelicalism today.

  • I think for the most part people have begun to gather around the ability to question and the need to practice. Neither of these are foundational pillars in the Evangelical tradition where people gather around nuanced theology. I think this migration will continue and leave Evangelicalism looking more and more like fundamentalism—which is ironic considering where Evangelicalism came from.

  • Alexis

    The Good news is that ” God is neither evangelical nor Armenian He is Just God!!!It does not matter how compartmentalized mankind’s mind set is!

  • Chip Burkitt

    I’m not sure what to say. I’ve been a conservative evangelical all my life. I admire John Piper and Tim Keller and some of the other Calvinist authors. Heck, I think I’m a Calvinist myself when it comes to God’s sovereignty. But on the other hand, I’ve about had it with the Republican party. I voted for Obama in the most recent election. I keep thinking about Jesus telling the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” I’ve started to understand why Catholics have saints: those whose salvation is beyond question. It’s so easy to be certain and wrong. I can live with uncertainty as long as there’s mercy and love. God seems awfully interested in how we treat the poor and defenseless. God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God.

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