The Fall of the Evangelical Nation

The Fall of the Evangelical Nation

by Christine Wicker

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Evangelical Christianity in America is dying. The great evangelical movements of today are not a vanguard. They are a remnant, unraveling at every edge. Conversions. Baptisms. Membership. Retention. Participation. Giving. Attendance. Impact upon the culture at large. All are down and dropping. When veteran religion reporter Christine Wicker set out to investigate


Evangelical Christianity in America is dying. The great evangelical movements of today are not a vanguard. They are a remnant, unraveling at every edge. Conversions. Baptisms. Membership. Retention. Participation. Giving. Attendance. Impact upon the culture at large. All are down and dropping. When veteran religion reporter Christine Wicker set out to investigate the evangelical movement, her intention was to forge through the stereotypes and shed new light on this highly divisive religious group. But the story soon morphed into an entirely new and shocking tale of discovery, as Wicker's research unearthed much more than she originally bargained for.

Everywhere Wicker traveled she heard whispers of diminishing statistics, failed campaigns, and empty churches. Even as evangelical forces trumpet their purported political and social victories on the national and local fronts, insiders are anguishing over their significant losses and preparing to rebuild for the future. The idea that evangelicals represent and speak for Christianity in America is one of the greatest publicity scams in history, a perfect coup accomplished by savvy politicos and zealous religious leaders who understand the weaknesses of the nation's media and exploit them brilliantly.

With her trademark vivid, firsthand reporting, Christine Wicker takes us deep inside the world of evangelicals, exposing the surprising statistics and details of this unexpected fall. Wicker shows us how the virtues of evangelicals are killing them as surely as their vices and that, to fully comprehend how and why this is happening, we'll need to understand both.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Religion reporter Wicker (formerly of the Dallas Morning News and author of Lily Dale) proffers a tendentious, confused book about the alleged demise of conservative evangelicalism.She makes a few lucid points, as when she deftly takes apart the many competing statistics about how many Americans are evangelical.But overall the book has a shrill feel, thanks to the regular use of terms like "threat" and "death knell."Some of the chapters, which seem like filler, are journalistic accounts of aspects of evangelical life-e.g., a portrait of a grieving widow who says she wouldn't give up Jesus to have her husband back-and are not closely related to the overarching argument.Wicker argues that some of the "threats" to evangelicalism come from evangelical institutions themselves.For example, she asserts that megachurches carry a lot of debt-a fascinating claim that should be bolstered by more rigorous research and source citation. However, merely establishing that megachurches are "vulnerable" because they cater to the tastes of boomers and depend on the personality of their leaders doesn't tell us that evangelicalism is dying; it just suggests that evangelicalism, ever protean, will once again change.(May)

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Library Journal

There is much talk these days about the rapidly changing landscape of Christianity in America. Books by Jim Wallis, E.J. Dionne Jr., and David Gushee all describe the fading of the religious right and the decline of evangelicalism. Here, Wicker, a former Dallas Morning News religion reporter, adds her own twist to this now familiar story. She writes that, though popular myth may have it that evangelicals account for about 25 percent of the population, seven percent is to her mind a more accurate estimation. She offers many explanations for the low number, none of them conclusive, and these explanations reflect the findings of a February 2008 report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life attributing the decline of evangelicalism to a drop in membership among both old-line denominations and the young as well as to the growth of independent, nondenominational megachurches. Evangelicals, it seems, are increasingly weary about theological controversies, and they desire more than ever to find a simple, socially detached, uncomplicated spirituality. In illustrating this point, Wicker discusses her own falling out with the Baptist church and offers much entertaining anecdotal description of evangelical ministries. A very readable book; recommended for public libraries.
—James A. Overbeck

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The Fall of the Evangelical Nation

Chapter One

God in Skin

Evangelical faith and the numbers around it are not all puffery, and that, of course, is what makes the truth so hard to find. Underneath the hype, there is a true foundation, a real faith that still inspires, a power that all the gods of modernity can never match. Science, psychology, individualism, freedom, democracy—all are wondrous but limited. None can give divine purpose, eternal comfort, ultimate justice, enduring community. Old-time religion does. Now more than ever, in the fearful, lonely days we live in, those gifts are worth their price. Considering that Americans are a practical people, always able to know a good deal when they see it, evangelical faith should not be dying in America. And therein lies the paradox. Because it is dying. And it has been since the 1900s.

As I continued to research, a split-screen picture formed. On one side of the screen were the believers. Many of them showed dazzling lives of triumphant faith that exceeded any expectation I might have had. Then I looked on the other side of the screen. That's where the numbers were. As I studied those numbers, I began to hear the preachers' warnings with new ears. Where I had once heard exaggeration, I now heard an urgency bordering on panic. They were frightened. They knew the numbers, and they knew what they meant. It was the rest of the country that was being deceived.

Before we're through, I'll show you a lot of those numbers. I'll show you that there aren't nearly as many true, rock-ribbed evangelicals in the country as we've been led to believe. I'll show you that baptisms are downand dwindling. I'll show you that devout believers are abandoning the Christian faith in droves. I'll show you that the behavior and the attitudes of the great mass of evangelicals aren't what we think they are. I'll show you that the mightiest of the evangelical churches are on the edge of a fall.

To get a complete picture of how strong evangelicals appear to be in contrast to how weak they actually are, you must toggle back and forth between those two screens. First we'll look at the stories of transforming faith; then we'll look at the numbers that belie them. Both represent a true reality. As you'll see from the stories I'm about to tell, if evangelicals really had the numbers they say they have and were growing the way people think they are, they would be unstoppable. But they don't have the numbers, and they aren't growing. The demise of evangelical faith in America is the crash of a titan, a loss of enormous proportions. Underrate it and you will also misunderstand the enormous strength of the forces that are killing it.

Who's to blame? When evangelical insiders aren't blaming Satan for the decline, they blame the churches. They can't blame God, and they can't blame the Bible. So they blame the churches. If the churches were at fault, fixing the problems would be easy. Change the churches, and people will start being saved again. But the churches aren't to blame. Modern life, changed circumstances, the new realities that we live among are to blame. The churches are doing a bang-up job delivering what evangelical faith promises. To show how good a job, I'll take you inside a Southern Baptist church in Rockwall, Texas, called Lake Pointe Church.

Lake Pointe is aten-thousand-person organization of volunteers who give hundreds of thousands of hours and more than $12 million each year to their cause. Evangelical churches all over the country inspire similar behavior and giving. After months of research on them, my biggest question was one I had never imagined asking: "Why isn't everybody joining?" I'll warn you before we start that some ideas and behavior in these stories are going to sound so strange that many people will be tempted to reject them straightaway. Partly that's because evangelicals use spiritual language that's no longer heard in common parlance and because, like every strong group, they learn to communicate in a sort of verbal shorthand that has depths of meaning to it but sounds like jargon and nonsense to others. The truths evangelicals tell about their lives also confuse outsiders because we live in a society where many functions of religion have been taken over by psychology. This transformation has been so widespread that people outside evangelical circles have largely lost the ability to understand the truths of inner experience when they are expressed in religious language. Whenever I can, I'll translate this language into concepts that will let outsiders understand better.

We will start with Van Grubbs, the man at Lake Pointe who is in charge of giving away a quarter of a million dollars every year. I hope his story and other stories of evangelical faith I'll tell later will cause you to doubt the assertions I've made about the death of evangelical faith and influence. I hope you start to think I must be either deluded or a liar. You'll be exactly where I was every time I went back to Lake Pointe.

Eachmorning,making his way toward Lake Pointe Church, which waits for him like a green concrete dirigible grounded in the heavy fume and growl of Interstate 30, Van Grubbs passes Rockwall city hall. Each morning Van, the community-ministries director for the church, raises his hand, palm flat out, toward the car window that faces the civic building and prays, "Oh, Lord, I love you so much. Thank you for what you've done for me. Use me in a mighty way and to your glory not mine. May my mouth be yours. May my ears be yours, my arms be yours. Tell me how to use the atoms in my body for your glory." Christians are nothing but God in skin, he likes to say.

The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. Copyright ? by Christine Wicker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Christine Wicker was raised in Oklahoma, Texas, and other parts of the South. Her mother's grandfather was an itinerant Baptist preacher, and her dad's father was a Kentucky coal miner. During her seventeen years at the Dallas Morning News, she was a feature writer, columnist, and religion reporter. She is the author of several books, including the highly acclaimed New York Times bestseller Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town That Talks to the Dead.

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