A twofold follow-up to yesterday’s post:
1) Some people have written to ask me what my evidence is for the claims I made in that post. There’s a good bit of general evidence for what American evangelicals believe, as well as what larger populations of young Americans believe; and there have been some excellent in-depth ethnographies of small groups of believers; and some studies over several years of, for example, biblical knowledge among students at one Christian college — that last badly in need of updating. But we don’t have (and probably can’t have, given the work that would be required) large-scale, longitudinal studies of how evangelicalism operates day-to-day, of whether what churches preach and teach match up with what they say they believe, of the degree to which congregants accept that they’re taught in church, and so on.
So I have supplemented those accounts with my experience, over 35 years, of talking with young evangelicals from all around the country (and often from overseas as well) about their upbringing and their church experiences; talking with friends and family about their churches; visiting many churches, evangelical and otherwise, often in the role of guest speaker; and reading a great many first-person accounts online. I don’t have an ideal body of data, but it’s not negligible either.
2) In the tweet that kicked this off, Ross Douthat asked specifically about the intellectual life of young evangelicals, so let me say something about that. Mostly, of course, it’s shaped by forces altogether outside of Christianity: as I have frequently commented, our current power/knowledge regime is far better at catechesis than any churches are. But insofar as the Young Evangelical Mind is shaped by forces within Christianity, those almost never involve the local church. The minds of young evangelicals are shaped overwhelmingly by music and stories — I have tried to sketch the emergence of the latter development in this essay. In general, evangelical churches have not understood the intellectual formation of their congregants as part of their mission. As always you reap what you sow — and when you fail to sow….