Evangelical writer David French contends that only a few self-described evangelicals walk the walk of the faith. The rest are poseurs.
“American evangelicals, it turns out, have a Jesus problem.”
This quote by self-described evangelical Christian Republican David French came in a September 23 post of his newsletter, “The Third Rail” in The Atlantic.
Referencing a report released last week on a biannual survey by conservative Christian organizations LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries, French notes that the evangelical tag has grown unreliable as an accurate identifier of faith.
He contends that the word has become “such a tribal signifier” that it’s now “little more than a God-and-country lifestyle brand,” with little relation to actual doctrinal evangelism.
In his post, titled “Evangelicals Decenter Jesus: Sexual morality is not the heart of the Christian Gospel,” French continued to explain that
surveys indicate that most American evangelicals now go to church once a month or less, with 40 percent attending yearly or less. Infrequent church attendance is most assuredly not a part of traditional evangelical theology. Moreover, those evangelicals who rarely attend church disproportionately identify as Republican.
This repurposing of the term “evangelical,” French laments, “has led millions of faithful, churchgoing Christians to have understandable objections to evangelical stereotypes” that do not represent true, doctrinaire evangelicals. Committed believers now wonder if most Americans know what the term actually means anymore, French writes:
How can you judge the beliefs and behavior of those inside the Church by the actions and attitudes of millions of people who rarely or never darken its doors?
“In other words,” French stressed, “definitions matter—a lot.”
Quoting a 2015 NPR story, French pointed out that the percentage of Americans who are “true” evangelicals ranged from 35 percent “if identity is based only on self-identification” to 25 percent if “based on denominational affiliation,” and only 6 percent if based on “agreement with a series of core evangelical beliefs.”
The core constituency of the Republican Party, French noted, is comprised of self-identified white evangelicals—“ranging from biblical fundamentalists to casual Christians”—who are only somewhat heterodox in faith but “remarkably ideologically uniform” in their conservative political leanings.
French explained that evangelicals’ “Jesus problem” is evident in the fact that a majority of them participating in the LifeWay/Legonier survey said they believed, “Jesus is the greatest being created by God.”
This was jarring to French.
“[T]his is a flat contradiction of Christian teaching, which holds that Jesus isn’t a created being,” he wrote.
Moreover, French reported that the survey also showed that whereas a surprising 43 percent of evangelicals did not think Jesus was God, 94 percent unsurprisingly believe sex beyond marriage is immoral.
French contends that contemporary evangelism has over-emphasized sexual ethics and political ideology above Jesus, when it should be the other way around.