In 1984, Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled “The Great Evangelical Disaster.” As someone who appreciated Schaeffer’s earlier work, particularly his seminal “Escape from Reason,” it was a jolting shift from cultural critique to cultural confrontation with clear political overtones.
How ironic that now, nearly four decades later, it is precisely the embrace of a political engagement with culture that has cost evangelicals their standing in public opinion. The only group in America that loves evangelicals are, well, evangelicals.
In a recently released Pew Research Center report, almost one third of all Americans expressed an unfavorable view of evangelicals – specifically Pentecostals and Southern Baptists – far exceeding negative views toward mainline Protestants or Catholics. The only groups that fared worse were Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists and Satanists.
And the reason why?
To quote Christianity Today, “Evangelical identity in the United States became associated with… political baggage in recent years.” Or as president of the National Association of Evangelicals Walter Kim, raising concerns about politicized perceptions of the faith, stated, “We are in a season in which the evangelical faith is being narrowly defined and misunderstood by many, with long-term ramifications for our gospel witness.” Too many young people and people of color, he added, “have been alienated by the evangelical Christianity they have seen presented in public in recent years.”
Of course, it isn’t just politics. As Christianity Today also noted, “Evangelical institutions have continued to reckon with racism, sexism, and abuse, past and present.” Their reporting included an incisive comment from Christian apologist Dan DeWitt, the executive director of the Center for Worldview Analysis and Cultural Engagement at Southwest Baptist University:
As someone who cares a lot about apologetics, it can be easy to shrug this off as merely the price of doing evangelism in a secularizing context. But if we take Paul’s words seriously, we should care about our reputation with those outside the church. These statistics should grieve us. While we cannot water down our beliefs to make people like us, we need to listen to how the world perceives us.
Yes, we do.
And particularly when many of our “beliefs” are not aspects of Christian doctrine at all, but rather ideologies we have made into theologies.
Schaeffer was right when he wrote about the “great evangelical disaster” being rooted in compromise over biblical truth. What he failed to see was how a future disaster would entail confusing allegiance to biblical truth with nothing more than political ideologies.
And nobody likes that.
Or more to the point, no one is won to Christ through that.
This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.