I contributed to the Patheos forum on the question of evangelicalism’s future:

At the heart of American Evangelicalism has always been an unhealthy alliance between the two types of Americans that Wallace Stegner has described as “boomers” and “stickers.” Boomers are the industrialists, the progressives (in the general sense of believing in inevitable social progress, not the more specific political sense), the people who move from work to work, always in motion, always growing, always trying new things in hopes of earning more money or “advancing” society. Stickers are the Hobbits of the world, the people committed to a small way of life who tend to be less concerned with abstractions like “social progress” or even “economic growth,” which is a kind of abstraction as well.

For most of our history and certainly since the Second Great Awakening we have attempted to blend these two approaches, mixing an emphasis on revival, innovative techniques for preaching the gospel, and for growing churches with a desire to retain our commitment to basic Christian orthodoxy and piety. Whether it is George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, Bill Hybels, or Mark Driscoll we evangelicals, like any good marketer hawking a product, have always had a talent for Americanizing our faith to suit the tastes of our target audience.

That alliance, however, is now collapsing.

To see where the argument goes from there, you’ll need to read the whole thing. And you can read the other contributions to the series, including one from Mere Fidelity host Derek Rishmawy, right over here.

Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy and sons Wendell and Austin. Jake’s writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

  • hoosier_bob

    This strikes me as a somewhat astute analysis of the emerging division within evangelicalism. It strikes me that there may also be those who qualify as anti-boomers. They aren’t exactly stickers; they are just angry at boomers.

    As a boomer, this probably sums up my increasing disenchantment with evangelicalism. My Dutch-American father’s maxim probably sums up my theological views: “The Bible tells us that Jesus saves us from our sin, but the market tells us everything else.”

    • Hoosier,
      What you say in your second paragraph works if what the Bible talks about and what the market deals with either are disjoint or agree. But neither is true. For Jesus said that one cannot serve God and mammon.

      • hoosier_bob

        It goes without saying that one can give credence to the truths learned from observing the market (i.e., God’s general revelation) without becoming a slave to mammon. What you’re proposing requires a kind of Gnostic separation of the two books of God’s revelation.

        Of course, that’s exactly what your socialism requires. Any reference to general revelation reveals your economic principles as utter bunk.

        • Hoosier,
          Certainly we can learn from God’s general revelation. But if Jesus saves us from our sins and the market tells us everything else, the inference is that sin and the activities of the market are disjoint.

          Also, let’s remember that economics is a social science, not a natural one. And thus the behaviors exhibited in economics exist in environments with very complex relationships.

          Finally, why don’t you describe exactly what my view of socialism is and what it requires?

  • Read the whole article, am not impressed. Why? Because supporting a particular social change does imply hostility toward those who resisted that change unless, of course, the people resisting that change did not recognize their counterparts as equals.

    To many of us religiously Conservative Christians have been using the same-sex marriage court decision as a phantom issue. The real issue revolves around how we will share society with others. Will we share society with others as equals, that is we will demand the same rights for others as we demand for ourselves or will we seek to maintain a privileged position where our Conservative Christian ancestors were able to use legislation to control society? Those of us religiously Conservative Christians who sought to control society through laws seem to be mourning the loss of privilege more than the Court’s proclamation on same-sex marriage. Too many of us are more preoccupied with speculations about our own future as a religious group in America than with any guess as to what is fair or what will become of the future of our nation as a whole.

    • hoosier_bob

      I don’t understand your criticism. I think that’s exactly what he’s saying; you’ve merely framed it in a way in which a boomer would frame it.

      I don’t think that stickers are primarily concerned with enjoying privileges with respect to everyone else. In fact, they want others to enjoy those privileges to, for example, by joining with them in preserving a putatively Christian culture. In that sense, stickers are much more interested in preserving a religiously infused, socially thick way of life that reaches across the culture as a whole. They also understand–rightly–that such cultures are unsustainable if dissenting views are given equal footing. Stickers enjoy being able to walk out the front door and know that there’s a cultural playbook and that everyone’s basically playing along. In many ways, the playbook is almost unconscious. In fact, if it’s anything other than unconscious, it loses its sticker character.

      Prior to 1950, most Americans lived in ghettos that were fairly amenable to a sticker way of life. But during the post-War years, it became harder to maintain that sticker-amenable character. As Americans, we don’t find ourselves situated in a centuries-old history that’s marked by the kinds of food we eat, the language we speak, etc. For example, when a Swede crosses the channel from Malmo and enters Denmark, he is very conscious of having entered into a foreign place. At the same time, he’s very conscious of having left a place that feels like “home” to him. But unlike the Swede, we Americans don’t have the thick cultural baggage–much of it accidental–that goes into the concept of “home.” (See “Home” by Witold Rynczynski.) We had something akin to it before the 1950s, but it was a fairly fragile construct. It wasn’t nearly as embedded as it is in places in Europe and Asia. So, when television and other amalgamating social forces came along, that culture-wide sense of “home” became impossible to achieve.

      In some sense, that’s how I would characterize the neo-evangelical project: It was an effort to build a “home” centered around shared religious practice for a group of people who sensed that they were slowly becoming homeless. It was an effort to use evangelical Christianity to create a distinct “home” that was as comforting to its members as being in Sweden is to a Swede. The project was successful in many respects, but it was a failure in other ways. In a way, it tried to achieve the impossible. For home to be “home,” we can’t spend too much time thinking about it. Otherwise, it loses its character of being “home.” But that’s something that we could never achieve in a pluralistic culture. To achieve it, culture would have to evolve into something akin to a soft theocracy. And that’s what many sticker evangelicals–whether they say it or not–have to acknowledge. If evangelicalism was going to be a kind of “home,” then the cultural would have to deny certain rights to other groups. This isn’t because such evangelicals disrespect the rights of others; they simply understand that you can’t achieve a sense of “home” without doing that.

      For boomer evangelicals, this is all nonsense. I tend to enjoy the cacophony of neoliberalism. I’m much more content to find home within certain cultural interstices, and to have the power of choosing the terms of that “home.” For us, being evangelical is one of those interstices. This ability to elect our “home” is a feature that makes the US the most economically robust country in the world. If you’re someone who’s bright and creative, there’s no other place in the world where you would probably want to live. Even so, we have to give some thought as to what that means for people who would probably be far happier living in a small village in Denmark (if only they were Danish). And it’s worth asking whether evangelicalism can serve both. Can it serve the interests of those who want evangelicalism to serve as the centerpiece of a culture-wide “worldview” that provides “home” in the same way that speaking Danish and eating liver paste does for a Dane? And, if it can do that, can it also serve the interests of those who believe evangelical theology but who are not looking for their churches to provide a world-and-life view of everything?

      In my opinion, there’s probably little hope that the two-kingdoms evangelicals and the world-and-life-view evangelicals can find much common ground. In the closing decades of the 20th Century, these two were joined together in their fight for orthodoxy against theological liberalism. But that fight is over. With no common enemy, we’re realizing that we didn’t have much in common after all.

      For me, I’ve recognized that the world-and-life-view types (sticker evangelicals) are going to drive the evangelical boat over the dam. These are people who, for one reason or another, feel their homelessness more acutely than others of us. Perhaps the effort to create a robust evangelical culture failed. But it’s all they have, and they’re not going to give it up. So, we two-kingdoms evangelicals (boomer evangelicals) are likely going to have to make our way in other quarters. I haven’t yet figured out where those quarter are.

      • First, knock off the boomer reference. It is an assertion you can’t prove while you use it minimize what I am saying.

        Let’s go paragraph by paragraph. Why is it so hard to understand the sentence below:


        Because supporting a particular social change does not imply hostility
        toward those who resisted that change unless, of course, the people
        resisting that change did not recognize their counterparts as equals.

        Let’s go to the next paragraph. Below is the main jist of it:


        Too many of us religiously Conservative Christians have been using the
        same-sex marriage court decision as a phantom issue. The real issue
        revolves around how we will share society with others. Will we share
        society with others as equals, that is we will demand the same rights
        for others as we demand for ourselves or will we seek to maintain a
        privileged position where our Conservative Christian ancestors were able
        to use legislation to control society?

        Please note the use of the word ‘privilege’ here and contrast it with your use. Your use of the word suggests that I am talking about opportunities everybody can enjoy. My use has to do with the position one’s group has in society over other groups. My use has to do with rank and one group’s use of authority over other groups.

        Second, you assert the following without qualification:


        They also understand–rightly–that such cultures are unsustainable if
        dissenting views are given equal footing. Stickers enjoy being able to
        walk out the front door and know that there’s a cultural playbook and
        that everyone’s basically playing along. In many ways, the playbook is
        almost unconscious.

        There, you show that you understand my criticism and are merely disagreeing. Of course, that contradicts your first statement. But also, you assert that giving equal position to dissenting views is self-destructive and you do so without showing that is the case.

        Third, you seem to have no clue as to what neoliberalism is in today’s world. But you conveniently put a label to my position in order discredit it to some degree. What you are confessing is a belief in a pragmatic Christianity, one that helps society grow in the ways you think it should grow, but it is also one that gives way to the market because of that Christianity’s lack of expertise in those matters.

        Fourth, should note that your use of categories fit the way you want society to progress toward. And that is why your above use of the word privilege didn’t consistently match the reference you were using–that is my writing. And your use of the word ‘neoliberalism’ in no way matches the current use of the word. At the same time, you seem to describe yourself as being perched way above the fray that involves the rest of us. Hope you are getting enough oxygen.

        Finally, realize what makes the U.S. the most financially robust nation in the world. It is because it divorces itself from the Christianity’s justice concerns, you know, those concerns that make it impractical and even antagonistic to apply to the market. They are also those concerns that 2kers have conveniently erased from their theology. Remember what you wrote in another comment?


        My Dutch-American father’s maxim probably sums up my theological views:
        “The Bible tells us that Jesus saves us from our sin, but the market
        tells us everything else.”

        • hoosier_bob

          I have a hard time seeing this as anything other than tilting at windmills.

          • That’s you. There are people in the world who see things differently.