Evangelicalism: The Next Generation


Corwin Smidt & James Penning

Central Theme
An update of James Davison Hunter’s 1982 landmark research into the beliefs of Christian College students that reaches a surprising conclusion: secularization and relativism have not eroded belief among evangelical students, but instead seems to have driven them to a deeper commitment to core values.

Observers of the next generation are offering a wide variety interpretation of what is going on with today’s college students. Some say they are a generation on a spiritual journey but disinterested in religion. Recently Colleen Carroll has seen resurgence in intense orthodox belief among her generation. This study goes beyond the anecdotal, by systematically updating James Davison Hunter’s 1982 research about beliefs among Christian college students. Penning and Smidt looked at the same schools 15 years later (Bethel, George Fox, Gordon, Houghton, Messiah, Seattle Pacific, Taylor, Westmont, and Wheaton) and asked the same set of questions (with some slight edits and updates). Armed with the original study as a benchmark the new study is able to track trends in Theological Belief, Moral Boundaries, Social Theology, Political Views and basic understandings of Civility and Tolerance.

They conclude that while there are some statistically significant shifts (more committed to inerrancy, more Republican, more egalitarian in gender roles), for the most part there is continuity with the students of 1982 and a mirror-like reflection of the broader evangelical sub-culture in which they were raised.

Beliefs num
–Secularization and relativism seem to have driven today’s evangelical students closer to their religions roots and perhaps deeper.
–Their commitment to Scripture as binding authority is high (47% inerrant, 41% infallible).
–Their church attendance is regular (81% weekly).
–Their moral boundaries relatively unchanged since 1982 (except in the areas of drinking and smoking).
–Their social theology is still rooted in achieving social change through reforming individuals.
–Their political ideology is more conservative and more Republican. Although on some specific issues they reflect a moderate to liberal ideology.
–They do not pose a threat to democracy because they are civil and tolerant while taking firm stands on what they view as moral absolutes.
–They are more experiential than propositional in their embrace of faith.

Questions Worth Discussing num
–Do you think today’s evangelical students are firm in their commitment to orthodox evangelical values and beliefs?
–How do you explain the wide variance in researcher’s findings when studying this generation?
–How typical of their generation is today’s Christian College student?

Provocative Quotes byline
–Three indisputable facts exist concerning the evangelical tradition in American life: It is important; it is understudied; it is diverse.
==Leonard Sweet.
–Few concepts have occupied a more central position in modern social science than secularization, the idea that religion is a vestige of premier cultures, destined to decline in importance and perhaps, disappear altogether in an age of science and reason
==Jeffrey Hadden.
–Today, in both theology and worship, there has been a shift away from “the theological toward the relational” from an emphasis on the knowledge of God towards an emphasis on the experience of God.
==Nathan Hatch and Michael Hamilton

Posted in Books, Staublog in July 1, 2002 by | No Comments »

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