Mark Silk on American Evangelicalism

Mark-Silk_avatarMark Silk is a veteran religion journalist who teaches at Trinity College (CT) and runs the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.  He writes a regular column for Religion News Service called Spiritual Politics.

In April, he co-edited (with Candy Gunther Brown) The Future of Evangelicalism in America.  The book includes essays by Michael Hamilton, Chris Armstrong, Roger Olson, Amy Black, and Timothy Tseng.

(This is an interesting collection.  Silk and co-editor Brown, as far as I know, are not evangelicals.  Columbia University Press is not an evangelical publisher.  Yet all of the authors are affiliated in one form or another with evangelicalism.  Do Silk and Brown see this book as a sort of collection of primary sources?  Just a thought.  Maybe Mark can weigh-in).

Over at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College has published an interview (the first of two parts) with Silk about American evangelicalism.  Here is a taste:

Ed: When you look at the numbers in terms of Evangelicalism, are the numbers going up, down, or remaining flat?

Mark: I like the approach that our sociologists and demographers take, which is to ask people to identify themselves rather than giving people a list of things to choose among. This approach is found in the series that we call the American Religious Identification Survey, or ARIS. One of the interesting things that emerged from that is the substantial shift between 1990 and the last ARIS survey, which was, unfortunately, almost a decade ago. Nonetheless, I think it still holds from the decline of people who identify themselves as Protestant and the great increase in the number who identify as just ‘Christian’ (a term for general Evangelical).

One of the interesting things we discovered is that a lot of people, including Catholics, will say they consider themselves Evangelical or born again, which is the political polling question.

Nobody who writes about this stuff really thinks that Catholics are Evangelicals, but the point is that these are pretty plastic terms. So, I’m pretty comfortable with saying Evangelicals are holding their own. You can see some denominational group bodies growing, particularly at the Pentecostal hard edge. It’s certainly true that nondenominational Evangelicalism and megachurches have experienced considerable growth, but if you dig deep, you discover these churches are actually Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, or something else.

You know when you’re walking into one of those churches that that’s an Evangelical church, even if the set of criteria that you want to map everything onto doesn’t quite work.

Read the entire interview here.