Evangelical Christians looking for renewal should look to the margins


The crisis of church and synagogue is not a crisis of faith, so much as a crisis of purpose.

(RNS) — Earlier this month New York Times columnist David Brooks published a devastating piece titled, “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism from Itself.” Taking stock of the state of conservative Christianity, the piece identified widespread polarization, pain and disaffiliation, as well as the rapid decline in the number of people who call themselves evangelicals.

But Brooks’ survey is not the whole story. While he highlights those trying to reshape evangelicalism from within, we see a rising tide of religious renewal in not just evangelicalism but many spiritual traditions, including in our own Jewish world. That renewal is often coming from the edges.

Part of the decline of white evangelical Protestantism can be attributed to the increasing diversity of the American population. The institutional struggles of white Christians, for instance, belie the burgeoning Hispanic evangelical churches. Further, there may be a growing gap between religious identification and attendance on Sunday, as people lose faith in institutional religion and try to make a difference, no less driven by faith, in other ways. 

Such is certainly the case in synagogues, where memberships continue to fall even amid a rise in the American Jewish population. Many American synagogues were created to help a large immigrant group of Eastern European Jews integrate and find a way to articulate both American and Jewish identities a century ago. They were safe havens from antisemitism and bastions of Jewish culture and served as conduits and translators of larger American society.