Is the Evangelical Sub-Culture Dying?

Newsweek’s Lisa Miller thinks so even if she doesn’t put it quite that way.  It’s probably a good thing in many respects, especially if it saves us from idolatrous and tacky (e.g. bobblehead) “Jesus junk.” One of the interesting points Miller makes is that what many “evangelicals” want can now be found in the mass culture. They can get their relationship advice from Oprah so they don’t need the “evangelical” alternative. Sadly, that’s true enough. Who needs Proverbs or Ecclesiastes when we have Dr Phil?

Miller also speaks about the “death of “Christian media.” This raises the question whether there is such a thing. Sociologically, yes, one can speak of “the evangelical sub-culture.” Theologically, however, we should say that there are Christians who use media just as there are aggressive anti-Christians who use media—are there “Christian plows”? Oddly, however, Miller didn’t relate her point about the “death of Christian media” to the larger trend of the apparent death of all print media? Major newspapers are closing so it’s not surprising that niche magazines are closing.

She’s probably right that the turn away from the evangelical sub-culture signals a shift on various levels. It signals a demographic shift. This is not your father’s or your grandfather’s “evangelical” movement. These aren’t the children of separatist fundamentalists. These are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of separatist fundamentalism. They don’t need the mediation provided by “Christian” versions of the culture. Miller is also probably right that the virtually complete identity of American evangelicalism with the suburban middle class almost eliminates the need for a separate sub-culture. When Walmart or Costco is selling your “Christian” stuff for less than the “Christian” outlet, who needs the latter?

Evangelicals who identify the faith with separatism from the prevailing culture will probably bemoan the death of the sub-culture but they’re wrong. That sub-culture needed to die a long time ago. Have you ever listened to Doug Oldham or The Lanny Wolfe Trio? We really don’t need “Christian” versions of whatever. There are also “evangelicals,” however, who have over-reacted to separatism by ignoring the moral will of God (antinomianism) or by becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of another segment of the predominant culture. It’s no good trading in total identification with suburbia for total identification of the local gentrified urban neighborhood or some other new hipster, foodie neighborhood or sub-culture.

One of the reasons the “evangelical” sub-culture is fading is that it had little to do with “the evangel.” The gospel is not about a white, middle-class, suburban identity. The gospel is a message for desperate sinners whatever their socio-economic-demographic address. We don’t need no stinking badges of an evangelical sub-culture whether those badges were formed in Wheaton or Seattle. What we need are Christians who live, think, speak, and interpret the world faithfully to God’s self-revelation in Scripture and in Christ. We need Christians to live out their faith by attending to the divinely appointed means of grace (the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and prayer), by submitting to church discipline, and by daily dying to self and living to Christ—i.e., living by grace alone, through faith alone, in union with Christ alone. We need Christians to fulfill their vocations in God’s world. We don’t need a different, hipper, sub-culture any more than we needed to older tacky sub-culture. We need to interpret reality through the lenses of Scripture and think and live accordingly.

(HT: Katie Wagenmaker)

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  1. I’m very interested in the relationship between faith and “modernity.” Things do seem to repeat themselves. The path out of a full-blooded evangelicalism and into politics (progressivism and the Social Gospel then; progressivism and the Emergent Church now) or into a signs/works/success’n’life-oriented hypersupernaturalism (Holiness/Pentecostalism then; charismaticism/Osteenism now) seem to be fairly consistent over time. To some extent, the disintegration of the Billy Graham-era evangelical culture is inevitable; perhaps it’s also salutary.

  2. It can’t be going away…I haven’t finished collecting all my Precious Moments figurines. There’s about a dozen more I need.

  3. Steven,

    Look up. The evangelical subculture never really fades, it just morphs and reinvents itself into something else. Maybe your mints and figurines will be reincarnated into, I don’t know, something else and you can pick up where you left off.

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