I had an “aha” moment reading Eastern Orthodox theology the other day. Ok, so here’s a thesis (it’s just a thesis and I’m sure someone else has pointed to these things before): it’s doubtful that evangelicalism will ever have another Carl-Henry-era “center” again. In it’s desire for centralizing structural/cultural power, the Carl Henry-era/CT evangelicalism, with Calvinists, Arminians, Reformed and Dispensational working together, went from gathering various denominational communions fighting against theological liberalism to fighting primarily against social & political liberalism in the 1970s & 1980s. Evangelicalism allowed herself to be co-opted by suburban conservative Reagan/Bush era deistic God and country political operatives who used evangelical leader’s influence for votes & promised (fleeting) legislative and executive branch access and influence in return. That never happened. In other words, evangelical leaders sold their churches out for politics in the 1970s through the early 1990s and lost their kids in the process.
The result is that by the 1990s, evangelicalism had become the religious dimension of political/social community and had lost entire generations of Gen X and Millennials by 2010. Evangelicalism was a 1980s/1990s political/social community that adopted a suburban politically conservative posture toward those on welfare, low-income whites, inner-city blacks and Latinos, instead of one driven by the sacraments. A political/social community that wanted good, socially & politically conservative kids, and so on. But their children longed for intimacy (in a culture of divorce & constant moving from neighborhood to neighbor chasing the American dream) and community so they left to go be a part of some version of emergent church–McLaren/Bell/Driscoll–in order to experience community around the Lord’s Supper, Christian tradition (ancient/future), religious experience, worship, mystery, “brokenness,” vulnerability, and so on. Their kids wanted connection, their parents wanted to win the “culture war.”
By 2000, many evangelical “leaders” realized the misdirection an attempted a course correction. Too late. This has not worked because of the influence of non-denominationalism, celebrity Christianity, theological tribalism, etc. There is no longer a space where Arminians and Calvinists share a common theological enemy. In the end, this is a story of how evangelicalism lost Gen Xers and Millennials between 1990 & 2010 by lusting after political influence. “The Gospel” is not enough of a common mission because even that word is defined according to theological preferences. What’s next? I’m not sure but I’m pretty convinced that as long evangelicals do not have a common enemy (this is basic social psychology 101) don’t expect their to be an Arminian, Calvinist, Reformed, Lutheran, Dispensational, Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, non-denominational, etc. theologically conservative “center” in the near future if ever. Again, this is just a thesis. Thoughts?