Evangelicalism: A Bird’s Eye View

I just read a great article by Philip Yancey on ChristianityToday.com called “Not What it Seems: A Bird’s-Eye View of Contemporary Evangelicalism.” The article is a compilation of Yancey’s reflections on the church from his travels in the U.K. and U.S. last fall promoting his new book on prayer. You need to read the whole thing (which you can find here), but here are his main observations in summary:

Christians in Great Britain seem more serious about their faith than their counterparts in the U.S. In a nation where only 6 percent of the population attends church, there is no overlay of cultural Christianity and no social advantage to church affiliation. As I have noticed in other countries, when Christians constitute a tiny minority, they are more likely to work together, too. With their impressive infrastructure, American churches tend to do things on their own or work within a denomination. One more difference: British audiences still hunger for content, whereas in America content goes over best when enwrapped in entertainment.

If you drew your conclusions from CNN, you would view Christians, and especially evangelicals, as a voting bloc to be manipulated by politicians, with news about them punctuated by the occasional sexual scandal. Go out in person, however, and you will meet countless people of faith who are sincerely trying to follow Jesus even when it cuts against the grain of culture.

My, how church architecture has changed! I spoke at a 300-year-old church in Connecticut that Jonathan Edwards attended as a teenager. It retains the wooden, pew-lined boxes that used to be rented to families who would sit together in a square around a heater. As a result, half of the listeners have their backs to the speaker. Across the continent in California, churches are rehabbing warehouses and strip malls, installing plush seats and giant video screens on which to project praise choruses.

The world is full of pain. The prosperity promised on religious television must exist in some alternate universe from what I encounter as I visit churches in person. For all its faults and failures, the church offers a place to bring wounds and to seek meaning in times of brokenness and struggle.


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