Is Evangelicalism Middle-Class?

A growing suspicion has been creeping up on me over the last few days…

Evangelicalism is middle-class with its desires and values and structures.  Seen in its professional clergy, reliance on knowledge, “family church” structures and busy programmes.

Pentecostalism (and some parts of the Charismatic movement) is working class (with its inclusive, grass-roots and sometimes anti-intellectualism)

Liberalism is elitist with its highly intellectual academics and convoluted theories of history and biblical studies.

Mainline traditionalism (in South African this can have a liberal, charismatic or evangelical flavour) thrives in pre-modern settings (or non-modern) settings with its regularity, ordered rituals and sense of belonging to something bigger.

The Charismatic movement has its greatest appeal among post-moderns, with its tendency towards personal experience, hyped-up music and reliance on feelings.

DISCLAIMER: I know that these are broad and sweeping statements and cannot be universally true.

BUT: is there some general sense of truth here? Do these perceptions ring true for you?

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8 thoughts on “Is Evangelicalism Middle-Class?

  1. John Post author

    I knew someone was going to challenge me to “define my terms” and I also suspected it would be you.

    I agree with you. But I think you know what I am trying to say i.e. what kind of evangelicalism I am talking about.

    So, help me out here, what term would you use instead?

    And does any of this ring true to you?

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  2. Stephen

    Well the reason I ask is because, in South Africa at least, amongst middle class Christians I would think that the majority might actually be charismatic or pentecostal. In a 5km radius around our church, covering basically middle class neighbourhoods, there are far more charismatic and pentecostal churches than there are more middle of the road evangelical or conservative evangelical churches.

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  3. John Post author

    I hear you and I did say these were generalisations.

    I think you are reading it differently to how I intended it. I think it is probably fair to say that most evangelicals are middle-class rather than most middle-class Christians are evangelicals.

    Although as I type it – I think the opposite might be true for Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians. That most working class Christians are Pentecostal (or perhaps Charismatic?). Rather than most Pentecostals are working class people.

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    1. Stephen

      @John: Yes I think that’s fair. I’ve often wondered if they sense of escapism that Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement offer in their worship services accounts for this. Those pumped services with heightened spirituality provide an outlet from the the harshness of life. I think a definite feature of the middle class is the programme-centered church. The middle class are, above all, consumers. They’re the driving force behind rampant capitalism and as such they expect their church to accomodate them accordingly.

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      1. John Post author

        Spot on with my feelings/perceptions and exactly where I was going in my thinking. This is not a flattering description. Firstly we are not reaching the poor and marginalised in this world, hence demonstrating Jesus’ “upside down” kingdom. And neither are we reaching the middle-class deeply with the gospel- we are simply entrenching their hearts desires with a bit of spirituality!

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  4. Lenny

    I think it’s true in part, but it’s hard to draw neat categories. For instance there are alot of liberal churches & mainline traditional, that are not elitists, but very grass roots, working class etc. I’m thinking of Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Guguletu. Whereas alot of Charismatic churches in the suburbs are very middle class and elitist. Then as well, I think the Charismatic churches are also very fast losing their appeal amoungst post moderns, who are really after athenticity and not hype. It’s interesting to see that the emergent guys seem to be now more popular with traditional churches who are tired of the formal traditional structures, whereas for many charismatic churches, it’s a sort of “been there, done that, got the nooma video” attitude.

    All of this to say, I don’t think many churches fall into neat categories.

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  5. John Post author

    I agree with you and hate the neat boxing myself (ironic I know). I did say these were generalisations though.

    Sometimes generalisations are helpful for seeing our own weaknesses and blind spots.

    I took a slightly different take on say mainline churches in Gugulethu. While there are definitely mainline liberal teachings there, I suspect the people are more traditionalists in their attendance and commitment to the churches. Rather than necessarily committed to their particular doctrines. Fair?

    I think your comments about the Charismatic churches are probably more spot. The more I think about it – the more I am not sure my comments on Charismatics are correct. Some of them definitely belong with evangelicals and some of them belong with the pentecostals. Hence your comment on boxes!

    Loved your “been there, done that, got the nooma video” comment!

    On the “hitting home” side – no one seems to have any problems with the evangelicals are mostly middle-class comment?

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