The Future of American Evangelicalism
Since I rarely have time to write outside of my dissertation, I thought I would share snippets from some of my pre-dissertation work.
Popular contemporary media often portrays American Evangelicalism as a largely monolithic group that is defined more by its political commitments than theological ones. This is because, as Carl Trueman notes, there is no core evangelical doctrine. Therefore, instead of Evangelicalism being defined by its theology, it is defined sociologically and politically. Its most popular academic definition is centered on descriptive essential attributes, not normative theological or doctrinal ones. As an example, based on Bebbington’s quadrilateral, one can be considered an Evangelical regardless of which side one fought for in the Civil War. This is because his definition only requires a high regard for the Bible as a primary source of spiritual truth and not an adherence to a particular moral or ethical framework based on the Bible. Since there is no clear theological core in American Evangelicalism, the movement’s core is replaced by its political identity which, in contemporary times at least, is significantly more cohesive. This blurring of political and theological identity creates a reality in which one can, in good faith, self-identify as Evangelical based primarily on political commitments rather than theological ones.
These political commitments couple American Evangelical identity to political conservatism mostly in the form of the Republican Party and to white racial identity as evidenced by the often cited statistic that 81% of white evangelicals voters supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election and 75% in the 2020 election. The fact that Evangelical denominations, especially those who are members of the National Association of Evangelicals cannot agree on matters of doctrine, while their members can largely agree on supporting the same political candidate further indicates that Evangelicalism is more united through politics than theology. Ultimately, this is because American Evangelicalism is heavily indebted to nationalistic folk and civil religion going back to the Puritans. The task for contemporary white Evangelicals is how they will prepare themselves to become a racial minority and a shrinking religious majority.