Source: The New York Times
BY Ross Douthat
About 20 years ago, the eminent sociologist of religion Christian Smith coined a useful and resonant phrase, describing evangelical Christianity in the post-1960s United States as both “embattled and thriving.”
By this Smith meant that evangelicals had maintained an identity in a secularizing country that was neither separatist nor assimilated, but somehow mainstream and countercultural at once. Evangelicals were both fully part of American modernity (often educated suburbanites, rather than the backwoods yokels of caricature) and also living lives in tension with pluralistic and permissive values. And this combination, far from undercutting their communities, was actually a source of religious vitality and demographic strength.
Smith’s description still holds up pretty well. The story of American religion lately has been one of institutional decline, of Mainline Protestantism’s aging and Catholicism’s weakening and the rise of the so-called “nones.”
But there has been an evangelical exception. The evangelical market share has held steady while other traditions have declined, evangelical churches have continued to win more converts than they lose, and evangelical resilience is the main reason why religious conservatism retains an intense and active core.