US evangelicals have ‘lost their umbrella’
Tim Keller, above, is considered to be a leading figure of ‘the evangelical intelligentsia movement’, and he claims that, in an increasingly secular America, conservative Christians no longer command the respect they once enjoyed.
According to this report by Trevin Wax, in a recent forum, “Conservative Christianity After the Christian Right,” Tim Keller used the analogy of an umbrella:
So what’s happening is the roof has come off for the devout. The devout had a kind of a shelter, an umbrella. You couldn’t be all that caustic toward traditional classic Christian teaching and truth.
I spoke to o the American Bible Society’s board. American Bible Society does a lot of polling about the Bible. The use of the Bible, reading the Bible, attitudes toward the Bible. They said that actually the number of people who are devout Bible readers is not changing that much.
What is changing is for the first time in history a growing group of people who think the Bible is bad, it’s dangerous, it’s regressive, it’s a bad cultural force …
He believes that the number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people. The big change is the erosion is in the middle. The devout numbers have not actually gone down that much. It depends on how you read them. But basically, they are not in freefall by any means.
What is really disappearing is the middle.
Keller sees the middle as having once leaned toward nominal Christianity, out of a sense of respect, tradition, or for social reasons. He says:
It used to be that the devout and the mushy middle – nominal Christians, people that would identify as Christians, people who would come to church sporadically, people who certainly respect the Bible and Christianity – the devout and the mushy middle together was a super majority of people who just created a kind of ‘Christian-y’ sort of culture.
The mushy middle used to be more identified with the devout. Now it’s more identified with the secular. That’s all.
The middle ground that once made it hard to speak disrespectfully of traditional values has vanished. They are are now identifying with expressive individualism, and so they don’t want to tell anybody how to live their lives.
What this means is that the devout:
Suddenly realize that they are out there, that the umbrella is gone, and they are taking a lot of flak for their views.
Keller used the White House’s rescinding an invitation to pastor Louie Giglio as an example of the kind of “flak” conservative Christians are now experiencing:
And there was no doubt, by the way, the Louie Giglio thing, when he was sort of disinvited because of his traditional views on homosexuality from giving the invocation at the Inauguration, that was so clear. No matter how I add it up, I look at the mainline churches and I take out the quarter that are probably evangelical, my guess is that 80 percent of the clergy of this country would have some reservations about homosexuality — 75, 80 percent, something like that.
But what we were being told was that you are beyond the pale, not just that you’re wrong, but that respect for you is wrong. And so that was heard loud and clear in the conservative Protestant world. Loud and clear. It was enormously discouraging. It was sort of a sense of it’s not just that you’re going to disagree with us, but basically you are saying we really don’t even have a right to be in the public square.
Last year Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, New York, found himself in the midst of a controversy after he told journalists that he had noted that many younger evangelicals:
Are taking an Anabaptist-like position; that is, that while they still believe homosexuality to be a sin, they don’t think the government should put that belief into law for the nation.
In explaining the Anabaptist tradition, I was quoted saying, ‘You can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal’. I did say that – but it was purely a statement of fact. It is possible to hold that position, though it isn’t my position, nor was I promoting or endorsing the position. I was simply reporting on the growth of that view.
I can see how some readers might be confused at these points in the article and think that I support the legalization of same-sex marriage. I do not. I hope that clarifies things for those of you who asked about this article.