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John S. Dickerson, Evangelical Pastor from Cornerstone Church in Prescott Arizona (and, as many of you know, is the son and grandson of influential Evangelical ministers) has a new book coming out in 2013 called “The Great Evangelical Recession.” Yesterday the New York Times published his opinion piece entitled The Decline of Evangelical America, which presumably previews the book. Those interested should take a look for themselves, but in a nutshell the premise of the piece is that the Evangelicalism is losing followers, financial support, and influence in the broader culture.
In 2012 we witnessed a collapse in American evangelicalism. The old religious right largely failed to affect the Republican primaries, much less the presidential election. Last month, Americans voted in favor of same-sex marriage in four states, while Florida voters rejected an amendment to restrict abortion.
Much has been said about conservative Christians and their need to retool politically. But that is a smaller story, riding on the back of a larger reality: Evangelicalism as we knew it in the 20th century is disintegrating.
After setting out the reasons he believes Evangelicalism is in the decline, Pastor Dickerson was blunt in his assessment of at least one of the reasons for “The Decline:”
Evangelicals have not adapted well to rapid shifts in the culture — including, notably, the move toward support for same-sex marriage. The result is that evangelicals are increasingly typecast as angry and repressed bigots.
So what if anything is to be done? In his view, Evangelicals need to “refashion themselves into a more sensitive, spiritual and humble movement.”
We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. . . . Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.
I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views. . . and more to do with our posture. The proper response to our sexualized and hedonistic culture is not to chastise, but to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).
This does not mean we whitewash unpopular doctrines like the belief that we are all sinners but that we re-emphasize the free forgiveness available to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
As a non-Evangelical Christian it occurred to me that Pastor Dickerson’s advice is applicable to those outside the Evangelical Movement, and perhaps even more applicable within the conservative political movement.