Why Are Many “Evangelicals” Today
Not Really Committed to Jesus as Lord?
Last month, the renowned Pew Research Center published their shocking discovery about why increasing numbers of Americans are calling themselves “evangelicals” when, in fact, they exhibit little interest in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
This has enormous implications for the status of the cause of Christ.
How can this be? Here’s my answer.
First, look at the Pew Center data concerning this phenomenon. Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, captures one good way to look at their core findings:
In other words, from extensive interviews, Pew researchers tell us that the reason the “evangelical movement” has been able to hold its numbers over the past decade is that, despite how many actually have left the church (and they are legion—a dropout rate of about 20%), another group has taken their place.
Increasingly, more politically, socially, and culturally conservative Americans who have concluded that “evangelical” is synonymous with “Republican” and “political conservatism” have stepped into the void. They believe the labels are interchangeable.
So, as many “cultural warriors” (as they sometimes refer to themselves) seek to identify with one side or another of the widening ideological chasm in our nation, they feel quite comfortable calling themselves “evangelicals.” They assume this brand of “religion” represents their worldview sufficiently enough that they are happy to join that “tribe.”
But the tragedy is this: When the Pew Center staff dug deeper, they found that multitudes of newly-minted “evangelicals” had little to no spiritual reality in their lives—evidenced, for example, by never attending church or being unable to explain the gospel. “Jesus as Lord” was a foreign experience for them.
The larger story
However, this tragedy is actually more life-threatening than one might think. The truth all of us Christ-committed evangelicals must face is this:
For a growing multitude of Americans, the Christian faith—the gospel itself as the witness to God’s Son, our Savior—has been watered down so severely that “evangelical” no longer represents its historical meaning.
“Evangel” comes from the New Testament Greek word for “good news” or “gospel.” At one time, “evangelical” clearly meant those who are so convinced of, committed to, and passionate for the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving, reigning power that they want to spread that message as widely as possible in order to bring others to him.
But today, it appears that many Americans perceive the testimony of the evangelical movement to be about another kind of gospel that even confessed unbelievers can feel comfortable with enough to identify themselves as “evangelical.”
More than we might want to admit, it appears to many that the Jesus we proclaim has been successfully “domesticated” and “captured” for promoting political and cultural agendas. Unwittingly, too often, we’ve allowed this form of a diminished, convenient, utilitarian Jesus to pervade and shape our church initiatives and Christian discipleship.
The bitter fruits
This is just another manifestation of the bitter fruits of the crisis of Christology I’ve been warning about for over 20 years. In doing so, I’ve sometimes referred to our modern-day evangelical concept of God’s Son as seeing him more as our “mascot” than our “Monarch.”
But this is not the first time such a “Christ crisis” has confronted Christ’s cause.
This sobering condition of the evangelical movement today is similar to that of the Church in Europe on the eve of a genuine “Christ Awakening,” which we call the Reformation. This fact becomes apparent, for example, for anyone who simply reads Luther’s 95 theses that he nailed to the Wittenberg cathedral door. That was the spark of a Christ-exalting spiritual revolution that changed the course of history.
The gospel of the Ascension
Such a church-reforming Christ Awakening is needed once again. However, this one will need to foster a different emphasis from the Protestant Reformation. We’re in need of a spiritual revolution that not only proclaims the good news of Christ’s saving work on the cross but, even more so, on the good news of the saving ramifications of his Ascension.
Bottom line: The ultimate hope of renewal for God’s people in any generation is for true believers to once again “become wholly alive to the whole vision of the whole Christ” and embrace all that it means to say “Jesus is Lord” today.
In one sense, there needs to be a massive “reconversion” among the people of God in our nation (and beyond). This transformation will be marked as a movement of Jesus followers waking up to, coming back to, and falling down in worship and surrender before our Savior for ALL he is on his throne.
As Colossians 1:18 reminds us, we must recognize that the Son at God’s right hand has total supremacy in ALL things. The Father means for him to reign in every dimension of our daily lives as well as in our life together—in our churches as well as in the boldness of our witness in the public square to the real Lord Jesus Christ.
The truth is this (as Pew’s findings warn us): The evangelical condition in America is dangerously close to where the troubled Corinthian church found itself—requiring Paul to write in 2 Corinthians 11:
That passage was placed in the New Testament for good reason: It was meant to challenge future generations of Jesus followers—like our own—about the dangers of a hollowed-out view of our Redeemer. At any time, God’s people are susceptible to falling into the same disastrous shortfall.
A couple days ago, a deeply committed Christian leader joined me in conversation about the Pew findings. Afterward, he said, “This new research scares me more than anything else I’ve seen or heard in a long time.”
It frightens me too.
LEARN MORE about the “crisis of Christology” through David’s sharing in the video clip HERE.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.