SR: There are respected voices in the U.S.
in particular who are saying the trajectory
of evangelicalism looks a lot like the trajectory of mainline Protestantism 40
years ago. But I think if there is a decline
in evangelicalism, it will be less dramatic,
and that is because there is still an emphasis on evangelism. Even though proselytization might not always be successful, it
still revitalizes the Church. Worldwide
evangelicalism has a huge growth factor,
and the world is coming to us. We are
seeing evangelical immigrants come who
are revitalizing churches that might
otherwise be dying.
FT: What about Evangelicals who conclude
their denominations are holding steady simply
because they “preach the gospel”?
SR: I think there’s something to that, but a
sociologist would talk about it this way –
what a church needs to do is present a
religiosity that is unique enough, and distinctive enough from the culture around it,
that it creates a strong identity and sense
If it’s just regurgitation of the status quo
of the culture, we don’t have a very strong
identity. Identity is formed partly by distinctiveness. When churches lose distinctiveness, they don’t create a strong
sense of identity and belonging. Strong,
vital religion tends to be distinctive from
the culture around it and has some tension with it. If it’s too strong a tension,
than you’re just perceived as really weird.
But if you have the right amount, you have
a strong identity. Why would you go to
church if it were just like the Rotary Club?
FT: What are some identity markers for what
you call the evangelical subculture in Canada?
SR: There is a strong sense that we are
different from everyone else. The evangelical subcultures in Canada and the U.S.
have strong similarities across the borders, and similar subculture boundaries.
Subcultural boundaries are about “This is
how you get in, and these are people who
are not part of it.” It’s about things like
whether you are a true Christian or not
based on what you say about Jesus’ death
and birth and a few other key triggers.
The evangelical subculture also has a
variety of cultural stuff, where you can tell
THE FT INTERVIEW