My name is Brad, and I’m an evolving Evangelical.
From a very early age, I embraced certain labels for myself. One of the first was “born-again Christian”, applied after accepting Jesus into my heart at age 6. It didn’t take long before I began to understand that I was a certain sort of Christian (perhaps the only sort of Christian)—an “Evangelical.” I’ve spent my entire life steeped in this evangelical subculture. What I mean by the label “Evangelical” is substantially different from what I meant in elementary school, but I still identify strongly with many of the core passions of the movement.
Just as my own evangelical beliefs have evolved, Evangelicalism is currently evolving at a stunning pace. Evolutionary biologists tell us that species often evolve more rapidly and radically in response to big changes in their environment. Similarly, Evangelicalism (which traces its roots to Cold War America) is now grappling with an emerging postmodern, post-Christian culture, and asking new and challenging questions about how to incarnate its faith practices in today’s world—as well as taking stock of its public witness. While these new questions make it an exciting time to be an Evangelical, they also threaten to make the word completely incoherent. Evangelicalism’s massive cultural impact owes partially to its success in pulling together a chaotic coalition of conservative Christians under the common banner of evangelism and biblical authority. But today, the coalition is fraying, and threatens to collapse. And, of course, I’m part of the problem. Why? Because I’m a millennial, of course.
It wasn’t until college that I realized that I belonged to a very unique generation at a very unique point in history. I attended The King’s College in New York City. King’s is an ambitious little Christian institution with roots in Evangelicalism. My classmates came from all over the world, and the great majority shared a very similar evangelical childhood full of mission trips, mountaintop conversions, and Christian music festivals. In fact, our backgrounds were eerily similar. We all had read exactly the same books and listened to the same bands. It was very clear that we had grown up inside an almost identical subculture, even thousands of miles apart.
But by junior year of college, vast swaths of the class had abandoned the label of Protestant Evangelical. Quite a few of the most influential members of my class had become Roman Catholic, and many others had become part of radical Pentecostal or Emergent faith movements. Some simply drifted away from the faith altogether. Of course, the college years are a ripe time for reconsidering one’s beliefs, but it would be a mistake to chalk this up to late adolescent rebellion. My King’s classmates are among the brightest and best people I have ever known—almost all committed to faith and service. In fact, what was happening in those years was not a reconsideration of their core commitments and values. It was a reconsideration of whether the faith practices of Evangelicalism could match the needs of the times.
What happened at Kings was mirrored all over the country among evangelical millennials. Among my close friends, fewer and fewer have turned out quite the way their Sunday school teachers had hoped. A whole generation, of which I am a part, is reconsidering the Christian faith en masse. Many are leaving church—not because they are atheists and pagans, but because their churches are answering questions they aren’t asking, and they are asking questions the church isn’t answering.
There is an unfortunate tendency among many Evangelicals to push against anything that smacks of reconsidering our faith practices. But I’m convinced that authentic Christian faith demands that each generation reimagine its witness and critically evaluate what’s been handed down to it. Evolution is a good thing. Of course, not every mutation is healthy. But unless faith communities incessantly re-evaluate and reimagine their practices and witness, they will wilt and die. It’s worth remembering that Evangelicalism would not have existed without this sort of fresh reimagination. And it must be done again.
Studies of the religious beliefs of millennials universally find that we are still open to faith, but burnt out on church. I have a ton of friends who fit this category, and to be honest, I probably fit the description to an extent as well. One of the big problems with my generation is that our cynicism has a period after it instead of a comma. What does it look like to move beyond this cynicism and work together towards a reimagination of Christian life and witness? How might new perspectives on science and Scripture be part of our this process? Can destroying stereotypes about Christians and science lead to a new appreciation for the Christian tradition among the skeptical and cynical? This blog is dedicated to finding out.
I’m also passionate about creating great dialogue. This is a place for the cynical and burnt out. Let’s be honest about our questions, and reject easy answers. If you want to share your story on my blog (or want to be a guest voice), email me at email@example.com or flag me down in our Forum (I’m the moderator). I want this blog to be a space for conversation.
Evangelicalism is evolving. If I’ve learned anything at BioLogos, it’s that evolution is pretty exciting stuff.
For more on my own journey, as well as more thoughts on the past and future of Evangelicalism, check out the links on the sidebar (below on mobile).