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Results of self-examination

08 May 2015

David Martin looks at what the Evangelical Alliance discovered


21st Century Evangelicals: Reflections on research by the Evangelical Alliance
Greg Smith, editor
Instant Apostle £12.99

THE Evangelical Alliance has engaged in sophisticated sociological self-scrutiny. Pious aspirations are minimal, apart from phrases about bridging the gap between Evangelical culture and the exposure of its young people via social media to contemporary consumerism and indifference.

This is where Evangelicals do somewhat better than other Christians by maintaining boundaries against incursion; but these are porous. Boundaries entail a high cost, and still decreasing spirals of church involvement are only just kept at bay.

Nevertheless, Evangelicals retain more males, they pray hard and participate actively, they engage enthusiastically in voluntary work (especially the women and older generations), they appreciate inspiring leadership, and they entertain hope and are loyal to their churches. Like other Christians, active volunteers for church work may be less available as older generations depart.

The Evangelical Alliance estimates its active constituency at about two million, disproportionately middle-aged, middle-class, and well educated, with a strong south- eastern base, (including black-majority churches), and concentrated in the caring, educational, or health professions. Evangelicals work hard, are affluent and not in debt or on benefits. About one third are Anglican, but they sit loose to denominations and seek relational and informal satisfactions rather than formal liturgy in sacred space.

In their everyday theology they are mostly not creationists, but they emphasise biblical authority, conversion, and the uniqueness of Christ. They embrace a bifocal emphasis on the coming Kingdom and the atonement, and they are dubious enough about hell to envisage a merciful universalism. They oppose homosexuality, gay marriage, and assisted suicide, but are more ambivalent on abortion. Their emphasis on family and marriage coalesces with traditional gender roles, though they openly report domestic emotional abuse. Singles bother them.

Sylvia Collins-Mayo writes on gender; Mandy Robbins (with Greg Smith) writes on "Life in the church"; Mandy Robbins and William Kay write on the evolution of Charismatic movements; and Mathew Guest covers politics. Guest shows that Evangelicals vote and participate politically in spite of some scepticism.

Their liking for the Liberal Democrats has been badly hit by the coalition. They combine theological conservatism with left-leaning attitudes on justice issues, and on poverty at home and abroad, they embrace a strong sense of overall British identity (with minority openings to UKIP), and they value education with a Christian component. Black Christians are Labour supporters, in spite of their aspirational ethos.

The Revd Dr David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics.

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