"...Christianity is not collapsing, but it is being clarified." So says Ed Stetzer in a response to the new Pew Research poll of America's religious landscape. This poll finds that Protestantism has lost its majority status. For the first time, Americans identifying with Protestant Christianity has dropped to below 50%. Also, there has been a significant rise in those who declare themselves unaffiliated with any religion. The specific numbers: one out of every five adults, one out of every three adults under thirty. These unaffiliated have been given the label "the Nones." Some have wondered whether this signals the death of Protestant Christianity in America. Ed Stetzer thinks not. He believes the rise of the Nones is a symptom of the death of mainline Christianity. He divides professing Christians into three groups. Cultural Christians call themselves Christians because know they can't be classified with other religions.Church going Christians are those who attend Church services a few times a year. Conversion Christians are those who claim to have had a transforming encounter with God and who live by faith in Him. The first two groups, which have largely constituted mainline membership, have decided it is easier to become unaffiliated in a culture that values vague spirituality over religious commitment. It is this change in status which has fueled the rise of the Nones. That will leave evangelicalism as the sole Protestant Christian witness in America. This will end any confusion in the secular world as to the true identity of the Protestant Church. As Stetzer points out in his article, Evangelicalism in America remains a vibrant presence.
Stetzer's analysis is correct. Yet I think this "clarification" will take longer than Stetzer anticipates. While the mainline is losing members to the Nones, there will be plenty of people to take their place in the immediate future. Where will these replacements come from? The evangelical left. As the evangelical left drifts away from a high view of scripture, it will find itself alienated from evangelicalism. It used to be the opponents of evangelicals that opposed the inerrancy of scripture. Now it is the evangelical left voicing the same arguments against inerrancy. The evangelical left is increasingly embracing the old "Jesus of history" approach to scripture, an approach which cast doubt on the authenticity of the New Testament cannon. Now the evangelical left is challenging portions of the Old Testament which it claims is a contradiction of the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus. Much of the Old Testament is being referred to as "the dark side of scripture." Recently I read someone who shares this view of scripture. He explains why passages such as God commanding Israel to kill the Caananites appear in the Old Testament. His answer: God has a past. The New Testament reveals God's evolved nature. Acceptance of evolution by theologians such as Peter Enns have led to have led them to declaring that Paul was wrong when he spoke of a literal Adam in Romans to explain the origin of sin. Such views receive enthusuiastic endorsements on blogs such as Jesus Creed. This low view of God's word which casts doubt on His authorship and ultimately upon His reliability, will eventually drive some out of evangelicalism. They will abandon the authority of scripture and do what is right in their own eyes. They will cease to have faith in a God who in their eyes could not create a perfect world on His first try. Their first loyalty will be with the culture rather than with God, which will cause them to abandon holiness and accept life styles God's word calls sin. They will become increasingly embarrassed by evangelicals who stand for righteousness (see here). These will align themselves with the current mainline, or create new entities which will be distinct from evangelicalism. In a generation or two, there will be an exodus from these entities. That exodus will make common cause with the Nones. Then the clarification Ed Stetzer wrote about will be complete.