Richard Flory, one of my very bright former colleagues at a stalwart CCCU school, is currently associate research professor of sociology and senior research associate at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
In the aftermath of the Rob Bell universalism controversy Richard is asking some very tough questions confronting leaders of the Christian College movement about the future of Christian Higher Education in the midst of dramatic worldview shift among younger evangelicals.
The End of the (Evangelical) World As We Know It
Several recent reports suggest that the evangelical Christian world, as we have come to know it over the last 30 years, may be changing forever…
(R)eports of younger evangelicals suggest that they have a distinctly different perspective than their elders on such issues as gay identity and marriage, the environment, how to address poverty and other social justice issues. As writers for the New York Times and TransMissions have reported, they are even, apparently, arguing against a traditional conception of hell.
While it is not exactly clear the extent to which these beliefs are really a part of the worldview of younger evangelicals, or how they may translate into different forms of social action, they do suggest that important changes are unfolding within a important sector of American society…
There are several angles that reporters might pursue, starting with whether the theological reorientation of charismatic leaders like Rob Bell really represents a broad trend within evangelicalism (or are they getting attention because they’re savvy about self-promotion and the usefulness of pushing their opponents’ buttons).
Further, reporters need to ask not only how many younger evangelicals there are who support a more progressive interpretation of the Gospel, but what influence they might actually have on politics and culture.
For example, what might these changes mean for key evangelical institutions such as churches, colleges and seminaries? John Thune and Mike Huckabee, two potential Republican presidential candidates, are products of evangelical schools. Will these institutions support changes in scriptural interpretation and social ethics, or will they maintain their traditional role of working to keep young evangelicals within the range of acceptable beliefs and practices?
…Ultimately, only time will tell. But in the meantime, there are many lines of inquiry that reporters can pursue to help us understand whether and how younger evangelicals represent new wine in old wineskins. Or whether they are just the same vintage in a shiny new bottle.
Richard is the co-author of Growing Up in America: The Power of Race in the Lives of Teens (Stanford, 2010) and Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation (Rutgers, 2008).
Read Richard’s entire article on USC’s website.