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What is the Future of Evangelicalism?

Adrift in a Sea of Individual Faiths - American Evangelicalism in the Early Twenty-first Century

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As the articles in this issue of Modern Reformation suggest, evangelicalism is experiencing a change in seasons: former evangelical statesmen are passing from the scene, new evangelicals don't seem to rally around the same issues and ideas as their forefathers, and it's increasingly difficult (if it was ever really possible) to identify clearly what an evangelical is. If you have any warm feelings at all about evangelicalism, you want some answers: Where is evangelicalism going? Who better to turn to for answers than the individuals whose lives and work helped create and shape evangelicalism. Modern Reformation is honored to include the reflections of these evangelical leaders, pastors, and scholars as we seek to understand our own time and the future of the evangelical expression of Christianity.

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1 [ Back ] Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).
2 [ Back ] By the latter part of the nineteenth century, though, that first growth had withered in some ways as evangelicalism tempered its message and institutionalized itself. On this point, see Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, rev. ed. (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers, 2005).
3 [ Back ] What Michael Horton has noted about the emerging church movement is as true of evangelicalism at its worst moments ("Better Homes and Gardens," in The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives, ed. Leonard Sweet [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003], 114): "In fact, a good mark of being 'pressed into the world way of thinking' rather than being 'transformed by the renewing of [our] mind' (Rom. 12:2) is that we think of ourselves (and our generation) more highly than we ought (v. 3)."
4 [ Back ] Perhaps the most egregious example of this was Joel Osteen's failure to confess Christ without reservation during his interview on Larry King Live, 20 June 2005 (, cited 15 August 2008):
KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know....
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God will judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
5 [ Back ] For example, an emphasis on a meaningful relationship with Christ, rather than a mere membership mentality; an aggressive stress on speaking about that faith and sharing it with others, a stress on the veracity of the Word of God, and others.

Dr. Lawrence R. Rast, Jr., is academic dean and professor of historical theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Issue: "Evangelicalism's Winter?" Nov./Dec. 2008 Vol. 17 No. 6 Page number(s): 31-32

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