On April 21, 2016, Hank Hanegraaff invited John S. Dickerson onto the Bible Answer Man broadcast to discuss The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013). The following is a snapshot of their conversation:
Hank Hanegraaff: In this book, The Great Evangelical Recession, John Dickerson underscores 6 factors about to crash the American church. It is a crash that Dickerson predicts is a s certain as the great recession that pressed millions of homeowners into foreclosure and pummeled some of the world’s largest financial institutions into bankruptcy. Here on the broadcast to talk about The Great Evangelical Recession John Dickerson. Welcome.
John Dickerson: Thank you so much for having me Hank.
Hank: This is an incredible book. You start out talking about the dramatic shrinkage of American evangelicals, and I suppose that has a great deal to say about the weight of evangelicals in the present election?
John: It really does. We’re often surprised to see—those of us who are sincere Bible believing Christians, which we often used the word “evangelical” to describe that, we believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and that the Bible’s God’s Word—very often lately, not only in this election cycle but in the last couple, many evangelicals have been surprised how little political influence we have. That is one of the, that is the result. The reason we’re having less political influence is the result of one of the trends in this book: that we’re actually a smaller movement than many of us have been led to believe. By the way, all these conclusions, what they are, they are an aggregation of the best research that’s out there from all sociologist, all universities, groups like the Pew Research Center, what I did as a journalist, my skill set is to take complex information and simplify it, get my arms around it. So there’re some good books out there about the status of the church, but I felt like there wasn’t anything that kind of got its arms around all the research. Sure enough that was the first thing that came out of the trend, multiple studies, is wow this movement—not Americans who just say “I’m a Christian,” that’s till about 70%, but Americans who actually believe the Bible, believe Jesus is God, He died on the cross for the sins of the world, salvation by grace through faith in Him alone—we’re actually much smaller, closer to about 10% of the population.
Hank: What I remember you saying in the book, if I’m correct, is you put it in international terms, when you say they’re slightly more evangelical in the U.S. then there are Muslims in the greater metro area of Cairo, Egypt.
John: Yeah. That is shocking. So when you—so there’s four separate researchers. Now there’s disagreement among sociologist about how many evangelicals are in in the U.S. and this is because we’re a difficult group to count. If you want to count the number of Catholics, or if you want to go with a cult like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have very centralized offices. Evangelical Christianity is a much more grassroots organic…spiritual movement led by the Spirit of God and the work of God, so as a result, we got under the evangelical umbrella, we’ve got fundamentalist Baptists churches, there are charismatic churches, there are a whole lot of non-denominational independent Bible believing churches, as a result it’s a tough group to count. So sociologist disagree to the extent that there are some as low as 7%, saying were 7% of the U.S. population, there are still some as high as the low 20%, it’s like maybe 23% of the population. What I did is I wanted to look at all those and say, “Is there among these multiple sociologist, is there a common answer?” What I found was four separate researchers who used four separate methodologies and they all concluded independently of each other that we between 7% and 8.9% of the population. Yeah, out of about three-hundred-twenty-million people that puts us at twenty-some-million., and yes the greater Cairo area there are about nineteen-million Muslims. Now who’s to know how many of those are devout Muslims and how many are conveniently Muslims because they kind of have to be, but that does put it into context. Another way of saying it is this: If all of us who are sincere Bible believing Christians, if we all moved to the state of New York, and if we displaced the New Yorkers, there would not be a serious Bible believing Christian in the other forty-nine states. We’re about the population of New York State.
Hank: I want to focus in on another point that you make in the book, another factor that will crash the American church. This is the growing cultural hatred for anything Christian. I’m the father of twelve children, I have four children in universities at this point in time, and those kids, my kids, are telling me about the growing cultural hatred for anything Christian in terms that I have never heard before. I mean tell me, when I say, “Yeah, I know what you’re talking about,” they say, “No, you really don’t know what I’m talking about. You have to be there to believe it.”
John: It’s true. One of the, you know if you want to call it a tectonic plate, an underlying cause of these six trends of decline in American Christianity, one of those tectonic plates is the rate of cultural change is accelerating. That idea is not unique to me. A whole number of secular sociologists are saying the actual speed at which culture changes is accelerating, perhaps due to some technology innovations, like us all having smartphones and other things, but whatever the cause is, the actual rate of cultural change is accelerating. Sadly, for those of us who love Jesus and the church, it is not accelerating in the direction of loving God and His people.
If anything…we know there’s a supernatural component to it, but humanly there’s a great reaction, that the Christians were so powerful politically, and were such a force, and now there’s a generation being taught down through textbooks, really at every level now, being taught that essentially that Christians were bad, and now to fight for justice and equality we have to put the Christians back in their place. And so, you know if you’re listening, this book we’re talking about, The Great Evangelical Recession, if for no other reason, get a copy to read this chapter called “Hated.” And again, I’m an award winning journalist, when I was a journalist, I wrote for secular publications. I was a journalist who was a Christian, but not writing for Christian publications. I’m writing about a lot of my peers, and essentially what I deduced from a lot of research as well as really some anecdotes that are just undisputable, is that every key leading edge of cultural society in the United States right now—so we’re talking about mainstream media, higher education, the large costal metropolis cities, the capital of the nation, and of course our universities and higher education—every leading edge of cultural society right now is a place where Christians are no longer kind of smirked at, we talk about…there used to be an apathy toward us, like “Oh yeah, those weirdo Christians,” that apathy has given way to an outright antagonism. There is a hostility that when you actually encounter it, it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck because it is a prejudging. It is a prejudice. It is a closed minded hatred towards those of us who name the Name of Jesus and take His word at all seriously, and so boy, you know what I really wrestle in this book.
The book is set up, the first half is all me writing as a journalist, and I’m not trying to weigh in with my opinion, it’s just here’s the facts of where we stand as the church, the bride of Christ, in the United States.
The second half of the book, I take off my journalist hat and I put on my pastor hat—I’ve been a pastor for about seven years now, started attending seminary working on my master’s degree, while I was still a journalist—and I look at the New Testament specifically through the lens of each of these trends. So in other words, this book in one chapter is going to understand the cultural change going on around us. Why is it that a Christian been in jail within the last year for not signing a marriage certificate? Why are these things? Well, when you understand the cultural trends there not as surprising. It doesn’t make it easier, but it helps to understand ok this is why it’s changing in the trajectory. Then in the other chapter, we look Scripture to say, how does God tell us to live when we are hated, persecuted, and misunderstood? How do we represent Christ in a culture that is pagan, and hypersexual, and anti-Jesus? Well, thankfully, a lot of the New Testament believers were in a culture like that and the Word of God kind of comes to life. My prayer in this book is to equip you in your mind, and give you skill and wisdom as you live, but then also at a heart level to say now do we really live for Jesus in these times, because we’re not here by accident, He ordained that we would be living at this moment in history.
Hank: John, you are not simply cursing the darkness in this book but you’re really teaching Christians how to build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm.
John: That’s exactly right. You know there’re two—it’s a natural response when we experience that hatred first hand. There’s a, I mean I remember a time—this happened a couple of years ago—there was a Muslim gentleman who wrote a biography about Jesus. The book, essentially he was going around on mainstream media and multiple journalists, or at least television hosts and radio hosts, were calling him a religion scholar whose and expert in Jesus. Well, the reality is that he’s a creative writing professor and his PhD is in the sociology of Jihad, and this book is saying Jesus never claimed to be God, and a whole bunch of other heresies. So I wrote a piece for a mainstream news outlet saying it’s not fair, this guy’s misrepresenting his credentials, and as a journalist I’m saying to fellow news media persons be fair in expressing this guy’s credentials, because if the scenario was reverse, in other words, if a Christian whose PhD was in the history of Christianity, wrote a book about Muhammad that was blasphemous to Muslims, well NPR wouldn’t have him on for three days in a row. No and so I was just saying it’s not just what we’re doing and as a Christian I would beg to my fellow journalists can we be fair about this? I wrote the argument really thoughtfully and carefully, knowing I would get push back. But, I have to tell you, having written the book about how fast the culture is changing and how hated that we are, I was totally unprepared for the amount of just vitriolic hate mail, and actual professional journalist likening me to a Nazi. Just really horrific stuff, including this so-called religion scholar going on Twitter and just, I mean, every curse word that you can imagine in a completely unprofessional way musing about me, and I remember the hair on the back of my neck standing up because I knew that there’s oppression for our view, but I had no idea just how frightening and outnumbered it can feel when we really stand up to the darkness. So all that to say as the culture around us is changing, we will all find ourselves in situations like that. It might be at a Thanksgiving table where you have a relative who comes out with a moral position that just shocks you, or it might be in your work place. It’s not a question of if we will face hostility, it’s a question of when. So that’s where I try as a pastor to really equip us.
You know it’s interesting. There’s this verse in 1 Peter. I think its chapter 2 verse 12. Where Peter says live such good lives among the pagans that even though they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven. I came across that verse as I was really praying: Ok God, I see these six trends these six problems in the church, what are your solutions. You know because I don’t want to give my solutions, I want to give God’s. So every one of these solutions is based on Scriptures like that one.
Listen to the full interview here: The Great Evangelical Recession with John Dickerson – Part 1
Get the Great Evangelical Recession. To order, click here.