Review – The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, Christine Wicker
I am a little late getting around to reading this, a popular book published almost a decade ago (2008). It does a good job of reviewing the available statistical data, and also throws in human interest anecdotes and some popular psychology as well. All in all, it’s worth reading.
The main point is that the size of the evangelical population is greatly exaggerated. Furthermore, it makes a huge difference if you count bodies in church on Sunday versus church members, versus people enrolled in bible study and other more substantive classes. While it is often claimed that about 25% of Americans are evangelicals, she concludes that 5-7% is a better estimate. (However you define it, over the past decade, they have not fallen as she expected.)
She emphasizes that evangelicals are not homogeneous, and not the right-leaning group they are portrayed to be. The devil is in the details; much depends on the definition of evangelical and the specific issues you are addressing. I am not convinced that the popular conception is especially misleading, despite her protests, especially if you are looking at political issues. This was long before the campaign of Donald Trump, whose success was largely due to evangelicals. I do not know if Wicker has changed her mind, but after a decade, her prophecy doesn’t look very good.
Ms. Wicker is largely concerned with evangelical attitudes and practices, and says little about their theology or knowledge of scripture. She emphasizes the fact that evangelicals rarely evangelize or attempt to convert others. Her emphasis on this failure and her discussion of its consequences valuable, her attempts at explanation less so.
In short, the book is a relatively quick read. If you’ve never attended a megachurch and don’t really know any evangelicals, it’s probably worth reading.