Retiring President of National Association of Evangelicals Leith Anderson on the ‘Changing Face of Evangelicalism’

The retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, says he’s stepping down at a time in which evangelicalism is in the “midst of a really good day,” thanks to the incredible growth brought to the movement by immigrants.

Anderson says he’s planning to step down as soon as a search committee find his replacement to lead the association of over 40 denominations and 45,000 churches. And the 74-year-old former Minnesota megachurch pastor said he’s happy to report that there’s a “changing face of evangelicalism” in the United States.

At a time in which there are prevailing media narratives about evangelicals that link the movement to some sort of pro-Trump Christian nationalism, Anderson says that narrative doesn’t represent reality.

“It is increasingly a face of immigrants, particularly from Latin America and parts of Asia,” Anderson told The Christian Post in a phone interview, adding that they are immigrants coming from places in the world that are witnessing the greatest growth in evangelism.

“They are bringing a dynamic faith to this country that is changing the face of evangelism,” he added. “It is significant and sometimes amazing.”

The growth of evangelicalism has been a post-World War II phenomenon that continues to this day, according to Anderson. However, the way the movement is growing now is a bit different from decades ago.

According to Anderson, the world is experiencing a tremendous growth in evangelicalism in  Latin America, Asia and Africa. He added that most of NAE’s 40 member denominations have more people living outside of the U.S. than in it.

But as immigrants migrate to the U.S. from the areas throughout the world where evangelicalism is experiencing explosive growth, they are starting to launch their own churches.

“The things that I see happening are the positive influence of immigrant churches and families in evangelicalism and the starting of new churches,” Anderson said. “I get to travel a lot. When I am in a rental car, I like to get off the interstate and just go through towns and see America. I will stop at a nonfranchise restaurant and just talk to people. Virtually everywhere I go, there is a new church, there is a new church in a school, there is a new church in a storefront, there is a new church sign somewhere.”

“If you go back 25 years, that just wasn’t true,” Anderson continued. “Most of those churches are evangelical churches. Those are seeds that are being planted. They won’t all survive but there are a lot of seeds that are out there that are going to have massive influence into the future.”

To better reflect the changing face of evangelicalism, leadership within the NAE has adapted to become more diverse.

“The history of the NAE, if you go back 75 years, was less diverse in terms of ethnicity, race and gender,” Anderson, who has been NAE president since 2006, told CP. “That has been a high priority to better reflect evangelicalism in America. We have made good progress but we are not there yet.”

The Public Religion Research Institute found in polling last year that most white evangelicals say that America’s increasing racial diversity and immigrants harm America or threaten its values.

“That is not the people I talk to. The people I talk to are thrilled when anybody from anywhere comes to faith in Jesus Christ and are delighted to bring the immigrant Christians, the diversity, the new churches into their association,” Anderson said in response to the PRRI poll. “They are actually thrilled.”

A number of evangelicals have spoken out about what they have seen emerge as a common public misconception that people have about evangelicals.

Considering that exit polls show that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, the term evangelical has taken on a more political connotation that is linked to social conservatism. In reality, the terms “evangelical” and “evangelicalism” are theological in meaning, not political.

While some conservative evangelical leaders have taken to the media to voice their opinions as if they are speaking on behalf of all evangelicals, Anderson believes that evangelicalism is too broad of a movement to be defined by a group of evangelicals’ political opinions.

In 2015, NAE and LifeWay Research partnered to come up with a set of four basic theological beliefs that define what it means to be evangelical.

“Evangelicals are defined by our belief in the Bible, Jesus, salvation, outreach,” Anderson contended. “There are many millions around the world, many of whom wouldn’t even be familiar with U.S. politics. It’s interesting and challenging to be identified by something that is not central to who we are.”

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Source: Christian Post