Written with Skyler Flowers

Colin Kaepernick.

“Grab them by the p… ”

Confederate monuments.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery.

COVID – serious problem or overblown?

Trump, Biden, other, or abstain?

January 6th, 2021.

The last few years have highlighted major differences in how Americans have processed the same cultural moments. Every month seems to bring another national Rorschach Test as to how we parse the times. Unlike Rorschach Tests these national events are not always neutral blobs of cultural ink. The same rending of the fabric of America is also happening (maybe not so) quietly within evangelicalism.

Introduction

I regularly hear from about six dozen pastors from around the United States. Over the past year, each of them have expressed to me that they are exhausted, and I have yet to hear from a single one that they are thriving. When drilling down on these things much of the exhaustion revolves around what we have all been intuitively feeling and objectively observing: evangelicalism is fracturing.

Tim Dalrymple, the President and CEO of Christianity Today, has been observing the same thing:

New fractures are forming within the American evangelical movement, fractures that do not run along the usual regional, denominational, ethnic, or political lines. Couples, families, friends, and congregations once united in their commitment to Christ are now dividing over seemingly irreconcilable views of the world. In fact, they are not merely dividing but becoming incomprehensible to one another.

The fracturing we are experiencing is likely to be irrevocable as the historical ties that bind have eroded beyond repair. The reality is that while many in the evangelical movement thought their bonds were primarily (or exclusively) theological or missional, many of those bonds were actually political, cultural, and socioeconomic. These political, cultural, and socioeconomic differences have always been there beneath the water line but what has occurred over the last 5-10 years has been the extent to which those values are expressed has been exposed. With the expression louder and the exposing more visible, these divergent values have rapidly created substantive wedges between various subgroups.

The rate at which divergent views have been revealed has created jarring relational dissonance. People in the pews are left questioning the extent to which their unity is based on the Apostles or Nicene creeds or other political, cultural, and socioeconomic matters. They are left questioning where churches, ministries, or organizations land on these things.

The tectonic plates are shifting underfoot. This fracturing will likely be irrevocable not because our Gospel essentials are not unifying enough but because the divergence of ethical priorities, cultural engagement, racial attitudes, political visions/illusions, and their implications for philosophy of ministry mean that unity is fundamentally no longer tenable.

The 6 Categories

As I have surveyed the evangelical landscape and discussed with pastors all around the country, evangelicalism seems to be fracturing into at least 6 different subgroups. Three of those groups (#s1-3) still have at least some connectivity to evangelicalism and the other three have cut ties (#s 4-6):

  1. Neo-Fundamentalist Evangelical– Neo-fundamentalists are those who have deep concerns about both political and theological liberalism. There is some overlap and co-belligerency with Christian Nationalism (a syncretism of right wing nationalism and Christianity) but neo-fundamentalists do so with more theological vocabulary and rationality. Concerning threats within the church, they have deep worries with the church’s drift towards liberalism and the ways secular ideologies are finding homes in the church. Outside the church, they are concerned by the culture’s increasing hostility to Christianity, most prominently from mass media, social media, and the government.
  2. Mainstream Evangelical – Historically this term has been Protestants who hold to the Bebbington Quadrilateral of conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism. The emphasis for this group is on the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Concerning threats within the church, they share some concern for the secular right’s influence on Christinaity, including the destructive pull of Christian Nationalism, but are far more concerned by the secular left’s influence and the desire to assimilate since the world still remains so hostile. Outside the church, they are likely uncomfortable with the rhetoric Trump and other conservatives use but view this direction as the lesser of two evils.
  3. Neo-Evangelical – People who would see themselves as “global evangelicals” and are doctrinally “Evangelicals” (w/ some philosophy of ministry differences) but no longer use the term “evangelical” in some circumstances in the American context as the term as an identifier has evolved to be more political than theological. Within the church, they are highly concerned by conservative Christianity’s acceptance of Trump and failure to engage on topics of race and sexuality in helpful ways, but they have not totally abandoned evangelical identification and likely still labor in churches with the broadest spectrum of these groups. Outside of the church, this group feels largely homeless in today’s world. There is equal concern, or slightly more either way depending on the person, at the threat the left and the right pose to Christians seeking to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness.
  4. Post-Evangelical – People who have fully left evangelicalism from a self-identification standpoint and reject the “evangelical” label yet are still churched and likely still agree with the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. They are more deconstructed than neo-evangelicals and they are more vocal in their critiques of 1s and 2s than 3s would be. Some remain firmly in Protestant circles and others have crossed over to mainline, catholic, or orthodox traditions while still holding to the basic creeds. Concerning threats within the church, they are focused on abuse, corruption, hypocrisy, Christian nationalism, and the secular right. Outside the church, they are primarily concerned with the matters of injustice, inequity, the secular right, and to a lesser extent the radical secular left. Many 4s are 4s also because their experiences with predominantly white evangelicalism have been so difficult and strained that physical distance seemed to be the only conclusion.
    1. Note – there is likely a halfway point between 4 and 5 known as ex-vangelicals that don’t neatly fit either 4 or 5. This group is difficult to parse as the meaning that this group has taken on has evolved even this year. We did not want to exclude the group from this typology but given the evolving nature were hesitant to pin it down too precisely at this juncture. Some of these folks have actually dechurched, some have deconverted, yet some remain in the faith but are quite vocal on their critiques of the movement. In time this category might evolve and/or swallow up category 5 below or it might fizzle like other labels.
  5. Dechurched (but with some Jesus) – People who have left the church but still hold to at least some orthodox Christian beliefs.
  6. Dechurched and Deconverted – People who have left the church and are completely deconverted with no vestigial Christian beliefs.

Some of these terms have been used in the past with different definitions. We are trying to stay close to the commonly understood meanings of both Christian Nationalist and ex-vangelical as they are presently understood. However, regarding Neo-Evangelical and Post-Evangelical we are diverging from some of the other past uses of these terms. Post-Evangelical was a term sometimes used during the emergent church movement and we are not using it in this sense. Neo-Evangelical is sometimes used to describe folks whom we have categorized as 4s and 5s here and we are not using the term in that sense.

It should also be noted that there are many folks who exist part way between two categories. There are those who are 0.5s whose commitment to nationalistic identity is so grave and syncretistic that they are no longer in the faith. There are 1.5s who can’t fully commit to neo-fundamentalism or Christian Nationalism. There are 2.5s who draw equal inspiration from both mainstream evangelicalism and neo-evangelicalism. There are 3.5s who likely strongly agree with the critiques levied by 4s but think the tactics of 3s are more wise. There are some 4.5s who would still subscribe to the Apostles and Nicene Creeds but fully dechurched for a wide variety of reasons. Hence, these categories should be seen as a bit fluid with permeability between them especially while we are in this season of self-sorting.

The Fault Lines

Over the last few decades and especially the last five years these groups have been increasingly becoming more clear. For some decades old exhaustion with the Culture Wars strategy disenfranchised them. For some five to six years of dissonance with how fellow congregants processed Trump, Mike Brown, and Trayvon Martin created separation. Finally for others the separation wasn’t palpable until 2020-2021 when divergence was revealed as to how people processed COVID, masks, the losses of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trump’s re-election campaign, and January 6th.

As I’ve talked with pastors about this paradigm, 1s and 4s have largely already opted out of worshiping in the same churches anymore (with the exception of a few megachurch environments). This leaves the primary points of real world internal church tension being between 1s vs. 3s and 2s vs. 4s.

1s vs. 3s

Neo-Fundamentalist Evangelicals (1s) think that 3s have a compromised Gospel that has imported worldly ideas of social justice into the church and are in danger of apostasy as a result. These things come to a head primarily on the topics of race and politics. 1s cannot fathom that 3s might not have voted for the “pro-life” Trump and elected to abstain, vote third party, or vote for Biden. 1s struggle to understand that evangelicals would be activists on anything except abortion.

Many neo-evangelicals (3s) struggle with what they would view as ethical compromise in voting for someone with the moral track record of Donald Trump and resent the pressure from 1s to do so. 3s also struggle with the 1s view that we live in a post-racial colorblind society and there aren’t lingering effects of the awful legacy of chattel slavery and Jim Crow systems of racial oppression and white dominance. 3s struggle with the idea that 1s see ongoing positive historical legacy of the societal benefits conferred by our Constitution but that 1s see no continuation of a negative historical legacy of the much more recent harm inflicted by slavery and Jim Crow. 3s struggle with the close proximity of 1s political and national identity to their Christian identity.

The upshot of these things means significant philosophy of ministry differences in how to contextualize the Gospel in this cultural moment. Disagreements over mercy, justice, strategies, tactics, affect, and culture are not easily bridged. In many instances these differences will be fatal.

2s vs. 4s.

Mainstream evangelicals (2s) sometimes have a hard time understanding the core concerns of post-evangelicals (4s). There is misalignment between the two groups as to the extent of hypocrisy, racism, political entanglements, and abuse. Some of these differences arise from diverging experiences between the two groups. Anecdotally it seems like many post-evangelicals have experienced church hurt and potentially first hand or second hand trauma.

Post-evangelicals(4s) feel that mainstream evangelicals (2s) form a kind of establishment that is very resistant to reform or change. I have observed among 4s immense frustration due to their perception that mainstream evangelicals are silent, inactive, or unwilling to see problems obvious to 4s.

The upshot of these things means that 2s and 4s will increasingly struggle to occupy the same churches. There are significant disagreements about whether problems exist, the extent of those problems, and what things need to be done to address those matters.

What are the Implications For the Future of Evangelicalism?

If 2016 was an X-ray, then 2020-2021 is a 3D MRI. What was previously invisible is now largely plain for all to see. Imagine for a moment that every local church is a rubber band. If you have ever had one of those multi-packs of rubber bands there are different diameters, widths, and elastic qualities. The bottom line is that the rubber bands of local churches, ministries, and parachurch organizations are now less elastic. This means the overall tension tolerable before the band breaks has been reduced.

How much elasticity can a church handle now?

As I talk with other pastors around the country what we are seeing is that a church can handle two adjacent subgroups. Some churches are a little more elastic and some a little less elastic but two adjacent subgroups seems to be the amount of tension tolerable before it becomes fatal. If this is true, then three local church paradigms will eventually take form:

  1. Type A Church – a church comprised almost entirely of 1s and 2s
  2. Type B Church – a church comprised almost entirely of 2s and 3s
  3. Type C Church – a church comprised almost entirely of 3s and 4s

Type A Church will continue to carry the torch of the culture wars into the 21st century. They will continue the same primary mode of cultural engagement through political activism through the Republican Party. They will see Type B & C churches as being compromised by political and theological liberalism.

Type B Church will chart a course that is not as culture war centric. While still being politically involved – their primary mode of cultural engagement will be interpersonal in nature. These churches will seek to make disciples and be neighborly. Type B churches would like to avoid the perceived political syncretism and cultural withdrawal of Type A Church and the perceived overly deconstructed posture of Type C Church.

Type C Church will seek to recover the public witness of the church by critiquing abuse, hypocrisy, inconsistencies, and misconduct. Their primary mode will be calling the church to ethical fidelity, justice, and empathy towards the lost, marginalized, oppressed, or disinherited. Type C Church would like to avoid the perceived fundamentalism, cultural isolation, and tacit support of oppressive structures or systems of Type A Churches and the perceived silence of Type B Churches on certain justice or ethical matters

If this thesis holds true then people will continue to self-sort themselves into the type of church that best fits their animating and core concerns. Some churches will try to fight this sorting and be all things to all people, but the size, weight, gravity, and sheer force behind the wedge issues will continue to force churches into one of these three paradigms. We will see a resurgence in fundamentalism as there is plenty of fear to animate parishioners, particularly from the secular left. We will see a rising tide of justice minded churches with plenty of concerns particularly from the secular right.

There will also be denominational strain for larger denominations. It will likely be impossible for denominations to span the entire 1.0 to 4.0 range. If a single local church can withstand a span of 1.0-1.5 range at most, then a nationwide denomination can likely only withstand a span of 2.0-2.5 without a split.

Large parachurch organizations will feel these tensions most acutely due to their big tent nature. It will be difficult to find a least common denominator that is satisfying to a very broad group as many will be dissatisfied. These tensions are playing themselves out particularly among large campus ministries.

What are the Implications for the Broader Culture?

Politically, there will be a reshuffling of the deck – some 3s and 4s will become independent or vote democrat. However, there does seem to be a rise of people who hold little to no orthodox Christian views who now self-identify as evangelical. This might in turn be a zero sum game where the only thing that is different is that the term “evangelical” is now more semantically tied to political meaning and less to theological meaning.

Sociologically, the resurgent neo-fundamentalism and its co-belligerent Christian Nationalism will continue to create parallel information ecosystems that will further stretch and rend the fabric of the USA. This will create opportunities particularly for 3s to try to create space for a nuanced middle America but it will be challenging to hold with erosion happening in either direction and without the (illusory) safety of tribalism.

Racially, tensions are likely to continue to rise. Neo-fundamentalists and Christian Nationalists will continue to find new labels and terms for their fears surrounding social justice. Exvangelicals and the dechurched will not tolerate evangelicals who don’t agree that systemic racism exists, express some meaningful agreement concerning its existence, and take active steps to work against it.

Economically, there will likely be more boycotts and counter boycotts as capitalism becomes increasingly weaponized in all directions to lobby for a particular cultural or political vision.

Regarding journalism, news, media, and social media, there will be ongoing challenges with sound information and reporting. The temptation on either end of the spectrum to distort, twist, and lie will be a problem that is not going away. This will likely continue to be exploited by foreign bad actors as well, further complicating the matter.

Hope For the Future

The question that remains before us is whether the big tent evangelicalism is worth fighting to preserve. From a big picture viewpoint, the answer seems obvious depending on where you are standing: cutoff the subgroup that seems the most extreme from where you are standing and march on. However, as this fracturing takes place in local churches, it is a much harder lived reality.

Therefore, the question is ultimately answered not by how major evangelical institutions react to each succeeding wave of evangelicalism but how local pastors and church leaders preach, counsel, disciple, and lead through these waves. It is easier for institutions to throw around their collective weight in distancing and removing various subgroups from their mission than it is for local pastors to see people leave who have been in their church for decades. This is why pastors are beat down and tired.

As local churches continue to observe this fracturing in their contexts, it will be necessary that they move forth with courage, compassion, and conviction for those across this spectrum. This will at times mean saying goodbye to brothers and sisters who you have ministered alongside for years and at other times mean calling back those who want nothing more than to be done with the church.

But there is hope. As Tim Keller pointed out in a recent interview, we have been here before in the 1940s when Carl F. H. Henry charted a course in between the twin dangers of liberalism and fundamentalism. He pointed out that in that day there was a sorting between various subgroups in Christianity that eventually led to what we now call evangelicalism. We are in a similar sorting here in the early 21st century. There is a lot to be explored this century in the orbit of the constellation of the doctrine of man, the imago dei, and (kingdom) ethics.

The church is not held together by its own strength but by the unbreakable bond of the unity of the Spirit. With this confidence, the church can move forward into this sorting, whatever it may look like, with hope that the Lord is using it to strengthen and embolden his church for fruitful mission in this age. This fracturing need not be viewed as wholly negative. Rather, in this sorting we hold on to the confidence that God is preparing his church to engage this age as both missional and confessional, with courage and compassion, holding on to orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathos.

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Skyler Flowers serves as an assistant pastor at Grace Bible Church in Oxford, Mississippi, where he lives with his wife, Brianna, and their pug, Sybil. Skyler received his MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He also serves on the steering committee for Rooted and contributed to the As in Heaven podcast.

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Posted by Michael Graham

Michael Graham is the executive producer and writer of As In Heaven and executive pastor at Orlando Grace Church (Acts 29). He received his MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He is married to Sara, and they have two kids.

66 Comments

  1. How do define Christian nationalism? Who are some evangelical pastors and/or ministries who are Christian nationalists? Thanks.

    Reply

    1. I would put Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Greg Locke, Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, to name a few, in that category.

      Reply

      1. I don’t know who Greg Locke is or much of anything about Kenneth Copeland, but Ropertson, Fallwell Jr, Jeffress, and Franklin Graham strike me as who I would have guessed were part of the Neo-fundamentalist camp. Who are the Neo-fundamentalists and how are they to be distinguished with the Christian Nationalists? I would have thought the Christian nationalists would have been the more secular rightwing types that appropriate a sort of Christian vocabulary (thinking of folks like Derbyshire).

        I wonder where the conservative protestants who eschew politics fit into this matrix – I’m thinking folks like Darryl Hart, conservative lutherans, etc… I suppose they aren’t formally evangelicals, but in thinking broadly about theologically conservative protestantism, it seems odd to leave these folks out

        Reply

  2. Joshua Daniel LaFavor June 8, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    Excellent article. One thing of note I would encourage alongside it, is Francis Chan’s new book “Until Unity.” The book makes the point that the reason for our splits aren’t primarily doctrinal, but rather we do not love each other enough to work towards a solution together and instead split.

    Reply

  3. Edward Hamilton June 8, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    These camps are now increasingly distinguishable by the language that they use (or borrow from secular discourse), to the point where it’s hard to even have a conversation without feeling like it favors the terms of one side or the other.

    That applies to online conversations as well. If you’re reading an article that talks about “Christian Nationalism”, “white dominance”, or “systemic”/”structural” racism (without scare quotes!) then you’re reading a neo-evangelical article, and anyone from group 1 (and some fraction of 2’s) will bail pretty quickly without reading to the end. If you’re reading an article that talks about “Critical Race Theory”, “cancel culture”, or that describes anything as “woke” (without scare quotes!) then you’re reading a neo-fundamentalist article, and anyone from group 4 (and quite a few 3’s) will head for the exits. Each side has a vocabulary that renders it repellent and alien to the other side.

    The opposing camps have created language categories that are so immediately non-conducive to even the discussion of compromise that the split is already a fait accompli. The only question left is how to arrange the custody terms of the divorce with respect to disengaged centrists and institutions.

    Reply

    1. Edward Hamilton June 8, 2021 at 8:29 pm

      I do think this article does as great job of capturing a new dynamic of “fourfold split” replacing “threefold split”. That is, previous there was a strong evangelical center, defined pretty well by Christianity Today (or Mere Orthodoxy!) Now that center itself has fragmented in a “group 2” that’s willing to use the language and philosophical categories of “the conservatives” and a “group 3” that’s willing to use the language and categories of “the progressives”. Speaking as a “2” (who attends a “1” church full of people I love), I’ve very suddenly felt that the people who are acting like “group 3” (e.g. my parents and siblings) have been lost to me in some permanent way.

      In hindsight, a critical element of preserving the viability of a unified center was the use of a shared vocabulary. Once centrist institutions decided to use the “4” vocabulary and absolutely refused to use any of the “1” vocabulary, they swung modestly left and traded away the rest of their “1” readership for “4” readership (or vice versa, perhaps, for sources like The Gospel Coalition that seem to be swinging modestly right).

      Reply

      1. What are these 4 institutions? The only one I can think of is Christianity Today, and I doubt that it had much 1 readership. As for cultural separation, I think it’s inevitable. The 3s are in the toughest position because they have social connections with 1s and 2s. Most of the 4s I know didn’t grow up within evangelicalism. So, walking away was kind of similar to changing jobs.

        Reply

      2. Any insight on what is leading 1s and 2s to be so pessimistic and defensive about the culture? From where I sit, it seems like they are subjecting themselves to a kind of self-radicalization through constant exposure to media designed to sow outrage and nurse grievance. When you try to bring them back to reality, your refusal to live in a perpetual state of alarm and grievance merely marks you as a collaborator with the enemy. It seems like a terrible way to live.

        That said, I think that certain things—mainly cultural and ethnic pluralism—cause them anxiety in a way that the same things cause me no concern whatsoever. Whether they admit it or not, what they’re probably looking for is something more akin to a herrenvolk democracy. They also seem to have fewer social connections with people outside of the church. By contrast, I spend almost no time outside of church with people I know at church.

        Reply

    2. I really like this point. “Each side has a vocabulary that renders it repellent and alien to the other side.” I think its more than just a vocabulary. The vocabulary is pointing to substantive differences in how each group understands the world, and embodies their different moral commitments, too.

      And I think, descriptively, you are right that those differences lead to each side blowing off the other. But it is not virtuous to blow someone off simply because they expressed themselves in words you despise. I am very happy to talk about Critical Race Theory, Cancel Culture, Woke Culture, etc. But the problem is that these words are used as shibboleths to be shouted, not commitments to be understood or debated.

      This is my personal experience, and may not be reflective as a whole, but many if not most of the 3s and 4s I know are not playing the shibboleth shouting game. They genuinely think that there are central Christian moral commitments that 1s and 2s have lost sight of. And it is discouraging and heartbreaking that no conversation can be had over the shouting.

      Reply

      1. Well rxpresed” we are only indiviuals With one voice. satan has control of the bully pulpits known as media and government and sadly in many pulpits. But there is Hope! Hope\is faith in Jesus Christ

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    3. I agree with this. I’m a 4. I agree with the basic outline of evangelical theology, but don’t accept all the cultural baggage that often comes along for the ride. I agree that the 1s and 2s will ultimately stay together. Thus, the legacy of the evangelical movement will fall to churches in the Group A category.

      To be honest, it’s the 3s with whom I’m most frustrated. They mistakenly believe that the current situation is temporary, and that everything will go back to the way it once was in a few years. As you note, the 1s/2s already seem to be coalescing into a subculture with its own unique and exclusive vocabulary. The 3s will eventually be pushed out. But they’re in a sort of seeming denial of this impending reality.

      For the reasons you highlight, Group B churches will not survive. They will either become Group A churches or Group C churches. That’s why the foot-dragging by 3s is a bit perplexing. Ultimately, this foot-dragging is going to hurt their efforts to build a new institutional identity separate from the Group A churches. It’s a little less of an issue for the 4s, as most of us can be happy in mainline churches (although we’d probably be happier in a Group C church).

      An article ran this week in The Atlantic, in which George Packer discussed the four distinct subcultural narratives that prevail in the US today. The subcultural layout is very different from what it was in 1980. The biggest change involves the rise of Smart America as a distinct subculture. I live within that subcultural, and it is as hermetically sealed as Packer suggests. Most of the 3s and 4s likely have at least one foot (if not both feet) in the Smart America subcultural narrative. By contrast, most 1s and 2s have one or both feet in the Real America subcultural narrative. Thus, the split within evangelicalism falls along the same lines as broader cultural trends. The white middle-class has now fractured into a smaller (but more powerful) elite who control most important institutions in the culture, and a larger (but less powerful) commoner class that resents the imposition of elite power.

      Reply

    4. Didn’t Jesus have the same problems? How did he handle divisions within the church, politics and society?

      Reply

  4. I wonder about another category (though maybe these are 3s) who leave Evangelicalism and end up in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Anglicanism? Many such people (I am one myself) are highly critical of the creeping syncretism of 1s and the convenient deconversions of 6s. Many of us think Evangelicalism as a project has failed and have turned to more enduring institutions for stability. We are just as doctrinally orthodox, but want to withdraw from the political aspect of the culture wars. We want to play to long game and focus on community building, loving our immediate neighbors, and guarding the faith for a future that will surely come. Rod Dreher (on his blog) is more right wing, but in his books seems to embody this idea, espescially Live Not by Lies.

    Reply

    1. In working with adult children of evangelical missionaries at MK Safety Net we have seen much division. These MKs have suffered trauma in being abandoned, sent to boarding schools and many have also sexually and physically abused. About one third have stayed with their parents faith. The second third have left for more main line churches. The last third have left all church associations, but some of these have actually found their faith stronger outside the organized church. The main reason for either the second and third groups leaving evangelicalism is the mission organizations and leadership’s failure to acknowledge or take responsibility for past abuse. The mission organizations taught the mission was family yet as soon as the MK is no longer with their parents the mission deserts them. Any MK who doesn’t stay loyal to the mission is considered lost and not worth any attention. Why is a mission interested in saving the lost in other lands, but not their own children? Missionary kids have often applied that family bond between themselves it is often much stronger than the bond they have with their own families.

      Reply

    2. I think it depends on why one has made the shift. Most of the 4s I know move to mainline Protestant churches. I see Catholicism as beset by much of the same kind of institutional corruption that one sees within white evangelicalism. Most people I know who moved into Catholicism were simply looking for a more philosophically grounded form of Christian Nationalism by way of integralism. Based on my readings of Dreher, he seems to be advocating for something akin to an authoritarian state that would reject cultural and religious pluralism and instill a system that tilted in favor of white Christians. Those in the Dreher-Ahmari camp may be post-evangelical, but probably not in the sense set forth here. They’re more like 0s—full-blown Christian Nationalists whose principal concern is establishing an authoritarian political order run by straight, white, Christian men.

      Reply

  5. You’re forgetting about probably the largest group of evangelicals, which is those who are basically clueless about the teachings of Christ, but who go to church for social or cultural reasons, to network, or because the women in their life expect them to.

    Reply

  6. […] Mere Orthodoxy – The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism […]

    Reply

  7. […] fascinating piece at MereOrthodoxy.com — “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism” — believes that we are watching a religious and cultural earthquake that will change […]

    Reply

  8. […] fascinating piece at MereOrthodoxy.com — “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism” — believes that we are watching a religious and cultural earthquake that will change […]

    Reply

  9. I’m a Canadian pastor and work with people in all of these categories, although the proportion of the church that falls into each would be different here than in the United States. Most of my work has been with indigenous people, university students, and others who are on the fringe of Evangelical communities. One thing I would note is that those who are 1s and 2s may not use the term “Evangelical” any more than those who are intentionally distancing themselves from Evangelicalism, because they simply regard themselves as “Christian.” This is because they’re unaware of or consciously discredit other branches of Christianity. I find that when I use terms like “post-Evangelical,” I often have to begin by explaining to people what Evangelicalism is in the first place. All that to say, this article does a great job of explaining the shift taking place as well as some of the points of tension, and I will be sharing it liberally!

    Reply

  10. […] fascinating piece at MereOrthodoxy.com — “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism” — believes that we are watching a religious and cultural earthquake that will change […]

    Reply

  11. Good analysis. For the reasons that Edward Hamilton mentioned, I don’t ultimately see this as a tripartite division. Group A churches will survive and bear the mantle of what remains of the white evangelical movement. Group B churches will either become Group A churches, Group C churches, or will go away. Group C churches will emerge in some fashion that is yet to be determined. It’s not determined yet because the 3s are dragging their feet in leaving the 1s and 2s behind. Russell Moore’s recent departure from the SBC will likely hasten the exit.

    One difference I see between 3s and 4s is that a lot of 3s grew up within the white evangelical movement, while a lot of 4s grew up in mainline churches and came int9 the white evangelical movement in college via RUF, Cru, or some like organization. Most of us 4s spent our formative years in mainline churches, and have few social connections to 1s and 2s. In fact, in the decade since I returned to the ECUSA, I lost social contact with everyone who’s a 1 or 2. Most of them freaked out over the 2008 election, and we’ve had little to discuss since. They’re interested in preserving the social hegemony in America of white Christians in a way that’s of no concern to me.

    Reply

    1. I hope that my B church can survive and thrive. yes we get criticized by both a and c, both to me that says we are in the best place. to me the future/choice is to be followers of jesus, american Taliban, or nons. I am sad about the future

      Reply

    2. Ryo, how would you categorize Russell Moore and where he is going as he leaves the SBC? What category or movement or strain of people will follow him? There is and will be a large following there in my estimation. I think the 3s will prove more resilient than you think.

      Theologically conservative groups are beginning to prioritize racial diversity, racial reconciliation, and some aspects of social justice. Look at the Podcasts that The Gospel Coalition is doing. Acts 29 is fairly multiethnic. Initiatives like Grimke Seminary. Some of the 3s, 4s, and 5s who have primarily prioritized justice, racial reconciliation (or ethnic conciliation) have fallen off the Church Building to the Left as they prioritize progressive ideology more than the gospel, but they (or the culture, or the Holy Spirit) have moved 2s and 3s Leftward. Left and Right isn’t perfect here because these were just Biblical issues that 1s, 2s, and 3s neglected completely or to some extent.

      I myself am probably a 2.75, and am in a Group B Church. Our Group B Church has two parent ministries. One is an association of Group B Churches (smaller in ministry entity size), and the other parent ministry is a white conservative but very globally far flung group (and thus the leaders are either 2s or 3s) and that denomination is then either Group A or Group B.

      My lived experience is very different from yours. You have lots of great insights though.

      Reply

  12. Does it not undermine the dialog to paint one “Evangelical” group as being co-belligerent with “Christian Nationalism” while not painting the opposing group as being co-belligerent with “Social Liberalism”?

    And, I’m not so ready to hold up Carl Henry as one who successfully negotiated a path between fundamentalism and liberalism, as his big tent approach to evangelicalism has led to inclusion into the camp of the very same groups from which the evangelicals had originally split apart from. Wouldn’t we agree that Evangelicalism is now virtually synonymous with Protestantism? But, I think that you are right, given the deep divides within even the SBC and PCA, I suspect that we’re about to see another wave of “fundamentalist” splits, reminiscent of the Spurgeon-Machen-Ketcham era. And I do affirm your statement that we need not view the coming fracturing as wholly negative; rather, we should embrace it as part of the divine plan, “for their must be factions … that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Cor. 11:19).

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  13. […] The Six-Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism: The last few years have highlighted major differences in how Americans have processed the same cultural moments. Every month seems to bring another national Rorschach Test as to how we parse the times. Unlike Rorschach Tests these national events are not always neutral blobs of cultural ink. The same rending of the fabric of America is also happening (maybe not so) quietly within evangelicalism. […]

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  14. […] with pastors, Michael Graham and Skyler Flowers observe how, especially over the past five years, evangelicalism is fracturing into six divergent groups. They note that each group is capable of communing with one or two adjacent groups before the […]

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  15. […] he felt very astutely defined the current climate of Christianity in America. Michael Graham’s The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism is a must read for us if we want to understand the movement and not simply be dismayed by the […]

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  16. […] however, there’s a deliberate attempt to distance from the term, given how loaded it has become in recent years, a kind of catch-all term for a political […]

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  17. […] however, there’s a deliberate attempt to distance from the term, given how loaded it has become in recent years, a kind of catch-all term for a political […]

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  18. […] however, there’s a deliberate attempt to distance from the term, given how loaded it has become in recent years, a kind of catch-all term for a political […]

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  19. […] however, there’s a deliberate attempt to distance from the term, given how loaded it has become in recent years, a kind of catch-all term for a political […]

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  20. […] unprecedented clash of cultural issues which have affected the church, even to the point of splintering the Evangelical Church into several different […]

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  21. […] however, there’s a deliberate attempt to distance from the term, given how loaded it has become in recent years, a kind of catch-all term for a political […]

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  22. […] however, there’s a deliberate attempt to distance from the term, given how loaded it has become in recent years, a kind of catch-all term for a political […]

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  23. William David Barnett August 4, 2021 at 11:12 pm

    In the first 2 lines of text under The 6 Categories, could you 1.) expand on what you meant by: “surveyed the evangelical landscape” And 2.) “discussed with pastors all around the country.” Are these references to “I regularly hear from about six dozen pastors from around the United States.” from the 1st line of the Introduction?

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  24. […] evangelicals and still-churched post-evangelicals, to borrow a label from a June Mere Orthodoxyarticle proposing a six-way fracture of US evangelicalism. See, for instance, Bethany Christian Companies’ shift on […]

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  25. […] evangelicals and still-churched post-evangelicals, to borrow a label from a June Mere Orthodoxyarticle proposing a six-way fracture of US evangelicalism. See, for example, Bethany Christian Services’ shift on […]

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  26. […] evangelicals and still-churched post-evangelicals, to borrow a label from a June Mere Orthodoxyarticle proposing a six-way fracture of US evangelicalism. See, for example, Bethany Christian Services’ shift on […]

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  27. I am now firmly a 4. I grew up in a solid Evangelical family. My maternal grandfather was a Baptist pastor, my parents and my maternal uncle were lay church leaders, my mother and her brother were in a gospel quartet. I have been increasingly frustrated with 21st century Evangelicalism. We left the SBC in 2006. We tried two conservative Presbyterian denominations for next dozen years and then an ACNA congregation. But the radical rightward drift became increasingly problematic. The Pandemic has been the final straw. The “conservative” takeover was anything but conservative; it didn’t conserve tradition; it warped and distorted it beyond recognition. I closely identify with the homeless 3, but that’s not a viable option. So, after considering Catholicism and Orthodoxy, we have settled on Mainline. For the first time in decades, I’ll be to the right of the center of my church home, but they are far more welcoming and committed to missions and service in our community. The 1-2 can have their culture wars and try to justify what they did to His church and our society to Jesus on Judgment Day. I’m done with them.

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  28. […] his resignation letter, Meyer referenced the “fracturing of evangelicalism” described in a recent Mere Orthodoxy article, which particulars how sure teams will expertise “vital philosophy of ministry variations in easy […]

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  29. […] his resignation letter, Meyer referenced the “fracturing of evangelicalism” described in a recent Mere Orthodoxy article, which details how certain groups will experience “significant philosophy of ministry differences […]

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  30. […] his resignation letter, Meyer referenced the “fracturing of evangelicalism” described in a recent Mere Orthodoxy article, which details how certain groups will experience “significant philosophy of ministry differences […]

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  31. I’m very new to this topic, but as a 3, my wife and I have been feeling uneasy at our 1-2 church. One topic that wasn’t brought up is homosexuality. Is one of the differences between a 3 and a 4 their view on gay marriage?

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  32. […] The Six-Way Fracturing of EvangelicalismBy Michael Graham […]

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  33. […] Tendenzen werden in einem anderen Blogbeitrag für den gesamten Evangelikalismus geortet. Die Hauptbruchlinien liegen gemäss diesem Beitrag […]

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  34. […] friend sent me an article today from the Mere Orthodoxy website asking my thoughts about the current trend of theological deconstruction that is becoming […]

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  35. Is there any guidance or examples of how local churches can navigate the fracturing that exists within their congregation and pursue a level of unity we’re called to in the scriptures?

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  36. […] “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism,” Michael Graham (MereOrthodoxy.com, June 7, 2021). […]

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  37. […] much of our culture on edge have created quite a bit of tumult for churches, too. A few weeks ago, in a blog at Mere Orthodoxy, Pastor Michael Graham offered a new way to categorize how Christians are reorganizing amidst the […]

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  38. […] of our culture on edge have created quite a bit of tumult for churches, too. A few weeks ago, in a blog at Mere Orthodoxy, Pastor Michael Graham offered a new way tocategorize how Christians are reorganizing […]

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  39. […] much of our culture on edge have created quite a bit of tumult for churches, too. A few weeks ago, in a blog at Mere Orthodoxy, Pastor Michael Graham offered a new way to categorize how Christians are reorganizing amidst the […]

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  40. […] On this edition of The Roys Report, we explore the answers with Michael Graham and Skyler Flowers, two pastors who have authored a groundbreaking article entitled, “The Six-Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism.” […]

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  41. May I respectfully voice that I struggle with what might be considered arbitrary definitions and loaded language throughout.

    For example, Type 3 evangelicals feel “largely homeless in today’s world.” But couldn’t that be said of 1’s and 2’s as well? I don’t think the divisions can been neatly made.

    Groups 1-3 by definition would subscribe to Bebbington’s Quadrilateral, yet you mention it only in Group 2. All 3 would subscribe to that.

    It would have been helpful to see actual data sets to distinguish the various groupings.

    In terms of loaded language, you mention Trump without his title, President Trump, which is appropriate for a first mention–virtually making his name synonymous with divisiveness and the problems in the church. As you mention, he only revealed fractures that had developed long before he emerged on the national scene.

    You also refer to Christian Nationalism’s overlap and co-belligerency with Group 1, but why can’t you simply call it patriotism? Is there no place for Lee Greenwood among evangelicals? Didn’t we all fly the flag after 9/11? I’m in my 43rd year as a pastor, and the changes in the church are astounding and alarming. Must all conservatives be idol worshippers? Are they too stupid to separate God and country when country is doing wrong? Didn’t they invent “love the sinner, hate the sin”? I have yet to see a decent analysis of the distinctions between patriotism and “Christian nationalism.”

    Is it possible even the titles are loaded? Neo-fundamentalists… who wants that label? Who doesn’t want to be “Mainstream or neo-evangelical?” Haven’t you’ve marginalized group 1 by so naming it? Why not “traditional evangelicals” which is what they/we are?

    The most important features I find missing here are epistemological and hermeneutical.

    How does each group treat Scripture? How much are they informed by the Word of God and how much authority do they recognize in it? That would have been an interesting analysis. My suspicion would be there is a declining respect (actual if not perceived) for the the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as you move through the six groups.

    Conversely, I think you’d find an increasing attention to “tools” such as CRT and Intersectionality to inform hermeneutics as you move through the groups. In other words, what premises guide each group’s hermeneutics?

    Might we say the six groups (or at least the first 3) simply represent a declining scale of “woke-ness”? Is this another version of Neibuhr’s Christ and Culture?

    Finally, the issue of evangelism should be considered. Whatever happened to language like saved and unsaved? Are lost people lost? Is hell real? Is heaven? How much should the preaching of the apostolic doctrines of the Cross guide us, and how would each group answer? With the passing of Luis Palau, one might argue there are no evangelists of national scope within evangelicalism in America. Isn’t this concerning? Evangelism is all but dead in America, as the social mandate has overtaken the evangelistic mandate, and evangelism training is virtually nil. The declining percentages of professing Christians should make our hearts ache over the “damnation of the wicked,” but I know that is Type 1 language… though shouldn’t it belong to all?

    Each successive groups blames the ones before it for the rise of so-called Christian deconversions. Those neo-fundamentalists, mainstream evangelicals, neo-evangelicals are to blame. But whatever percentage of blame can be laid at the feet of Christians behaving badly is minimal compared to a person’s resistance against Christ himself. The main reason for deconversion remains: “But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’” (Luke 19:14, NKJV). Point to neo-fundamentalists or mainstream evangelicals or whomever you like… people walk away from Christ because they don’t want to submit to God, and they are without excuse.

    Jesus Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Lord, and Coming King. He would unite us if we would dial up our considerations of him, along with the apostolic analysis of the Cross, in terms of preaching, teaching, and mission.

    Thanks for a great thought exercise. Sorry for rambling. Christ is all.

    Reply

  42. […] much of our culture on edge have created quite a bit of tumult for churches, too. A few weeks ago, in a blog at Mere Orthodoxy, Pastor Michael Graham offered a new way to categorize how Christians are reorganizing amidst the […]

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  43. Generally, I agree. My only criticism is that it frames the split as a continuum (from right-wing to apostate), rather than a spectrum. That’s consistent with the secular left-right framing of the culture wars, but is biased in this framing. When you overlay theology, there are multiple theological poles (or lack thereof) that inform one’s thinking. When you overlay the believer’s race or national origin, that introduces additional poles. You can overlay professional training (i.e., scientist vs no college), living location (urban vs rural), or stage of life (single vs married).

    I would frame categories 1-4 as corners of a cube (the other corners have yet to emerge), with 5 and 6 being those who have been driven out of the cube for various reasons, with some perhaps on unidentified corners but unable to find fellowship.

    Sociological work pins strength of agreement with tenants of Christian nationalism as the single most reliable predictor of culture war alignment (or specifically, vote for Trump) [Perry, Whitehead, Djupe, etc). Strength of belief in Christian nationalism is also a spectrum. However, it is a more accurate predictor than other statistical measures like religious beliefs, education, age, location, or even race (though race is highly negatively correlated with Christian nationalism given that Christian nationalism is in essence ethnic). Many of these other variables drop out as predictors when measures of CN belief are introduced.

    Thus, many of those in category 5 or 6 might instead be those driven out by their rejection of Christian (ethnic) nationalism, rather than a rejection of Christianity itself. Abuse and corruption are also big concerns, but seem to be less politically volatile for all except perhaps 0.5s. The controversy there seems to center around the degree to which patriarchal and authoritarian tendencies have blinded evangelicals to the extent of the abuse.

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  44. Full disclosure: I go to Mike Graham’s church.

    This was a very good article and obviously very well researched. When someone I am getting to know asks me “What religion are you?” I respond by saying “Biblical Christian” I usually get a quizzical look when I say that. I then explain to them that I embrace one of the main points of the reformation, that the Bible alone is our authority. The apostle Paul told us that he preached the “whole counsel of God” and to live at peace with all men. I think living at peace with all men includes Christians too.

    Christians made the mistake in the 1980s of getting too closely aligned with politicians and political parties. We obviously have not learned from our mistakes in the past.

    Reply

  45. […] Read more here —> The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism – Mere Orthodoxy  […]

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  46. […] the titles “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart,” (The Atlantic) or the “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism” (Mere Orthodoxy). The historical movement that sought a middle way between fundamentalist and […]

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  47. Dude, it took you a lot of words to get to THE main issue. Evangelical church culture sucks. It’s a hollow, lame, tawdry mess. Ghetto-ized into irrelevant oblivion. Most if not all of the problem you cite would vanish if we had a strong, robust, engaging culture that spoke to everyone. We do not. In that Atlantic piece, Alan Jacobs at Baylor says, “Culture catechizes.” He was attempting to point out (and I don’t disagree) that the Lunatic Left and the Lunatic Right cultures catechize evangelicals and we have huge issues as a result. What he fails to point out is that the strongest negative catechizer is church culture. And by negative, I mean absent or weak and meaningless. So of course people will fill that vacuum with any crazy BS that comes along. I can deal with the idiots on both sides just fine. What I cannot stand is our utter lack of a smart, gracious, engaged, savvy, understanding and interrogation of worldly culture which is still, despite much nonsense and danger, immensely valuable and enjoyable. We’ve forsaken common grace. That’s why we’re failing and flailing.

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  48. […] all mirrors the larger discussion of evangelical fracturing that we are all seeing in our churches. Many are moving toward neo-fundamentalism and many are […]

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  49. […] Recently in the Atlantic, Peter Wehner argued that the evangelical church is breaking apart. He references the politicization of Covid, the challenge of two contentious elections, and the fact that America is in a bitter partisan divide. Additionally, in June, Mere Orthodoxy columnist Michael Graham suggested that evangelicalism in America is undergoing a “Six-way fracturing.”  […]

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  50. […] Recently in The Atlantic, Peter Wehner argued that the evangelical church is breaking apart. He references the politicization of COVID, the challenge of two contentious elections, and the fact that America is in a bitter partisan divide. Additionally, in June, Mere Orthodoxy columnist Michael Graham suggested that evangelicalism in America is undergoing a “six-way fracturing.” […]

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  51. […] hermeneutic of suspicion replaced believing the best as the Western Evangelical church fractured beneath us. Relative peace and harmony gave way to gossip and slander and then you put all […]

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