It is astonishing that so many intelligent Christians seem to believe there is a deficit in emphasis on evangelism and scriptural literalism, and that, if the hatches are just battened down on a more solid “worldview,” evangelicalism can resume explaining the universe to new generations of believers. In this respect, evangelicalism’s true believers resemble the faction of the Republican Party that asserts with a straight face that returning to “core principles,” and not a radical restructuring of priorities, will bring waves of Americans back to the right wing.
But so many twenty-somethings are not calling themselves “post-evangelical” because they know too little theology or have put too small an effort into synthesizing it with reality. They have come from the most apologetics-obsessed generation of Christians in American history, and have realized that many of their prepared answers are for questions that no one is asking. Adrift in the cultural sea, many turned to traditions and theological systems of the past, only to find those similarly unequipped to address the questions of our time. The only choice has been to begin the messy and at times overwhelming process of drafting something new.
The growing collection of post-evangelicals is what the defensive, definitional evangelical fears the most, and could by itself explain the recent obsession with protecting the label. Surely many of the intelligent professors, students, writers and bloggers rushing to its defense have also felt the naggings of cognitive dissonance and the inkling that the world might make more sense if they abandoned some of their cultural presuppositions. But haggling over the details of theology provides a psuedo-intellectual haven from real-world questions, where evangelicals can exercise their minds without coming to any unsettling conclusions. And thus the cycle of definition and redefinition continues, providing endless diversion as it cuts deeper and deeper ruts into what was once known as the Christian dialogue.
Refusing to align squarely with evangelical shibboleths requires courage, but the sooner it happens on a larger scale the better. All signs point to a near future where religion will play an increasingly climactic role in global culture and politics. Men and women who, as Mark Noll puts it in the final pages of The Evangelical Scandal, “think like a Christian”—by which he means “take seriously the sovereignty of God over the world he created”—should be leading the way on the meta questions that are already besieging society. But as long as they are busy drafting manifestos in their barricaded salons, hubristic rationalism will continue charging unchecked into the 21st century.