Scot McKnight summarizes Randy Balmer on American evangelicalism.

“Randy Balmer observes [that it] emerged out of three P’s: Scots-Irish Presbyterianism, Continental Pietism, and New England Puritanism. But Balmer’s burden is that evangelicalism in America mutates, even if it is connected always to the Bible as inspired, the centrality of a born-again experience, and the impulse to evangelize others. — The Making of Evangelicalism.

“it is always changing. Why? “It is not bound by ecclesiastical hierarchies, creedal formulas, or liturgical rubrics” (3).

“Balmer sees four shifts, or four turning points, and each of these has lingering effects in our culture today:

“First, a transition from Calvinism to Arminian theology in the embrace of revivalism. It begins with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.. Balmer’s point then is a free market kind of religion prevails in America. At work here is the foundation of the First Amendment, something that gives life and breath to American evangelicalism.

“Second, a transition from postmillennialism’s hope for creating a new society to a more pessimistic posture in (often dispensational) premillennialism. Self-determination could change society, so the early phases after Finney were about changing America. It was about kingdom building, but this set of hopes was replaced — eventually — by a more pessimistic premillennialism that entailed continued corruption in society and culture that were more or less irredeemable.

“Third, a transition from a place in culture to an underground, disestablished subculture. Balmer says in general one can say there are four periods in the relation of evangelicalism to society: 1900-1925, 1925-1950, 1950-1975, and 1975-2000… By mid Century we have Carl Henry calling for re-engagement. The last quarter sees total capitulation of evangelicals to politics.

“Fourth, a transition from a subculture to re-engagement in the Religious Right. 1973, Roe v. Wade, awoke evangelicalism from a stupor of inactivism — this is the fictional revisionist story of many today. Balmer shows that the Roe v. Wade decision was largely ignored and partly supported by evangelicals, and he names names. What galvanized was what followed from the Civil Rights Act, in particular the Green v. Connally and Bob Jones University and its decision not to admit unmarried African Americans and to prohibit interracial dating…”


And related, more “church leavers” tell us we need to find the radical middle, a new way forward beyond the culture wars.

Why We’re Not Going to Church

See also “Church leavers and Faith Stages