Lessons from the Collapse of American Protestantism

Alastair Roberts | November 10, 2016


In an important essay that has sparked considerable conversation, Alan Jacobs raises a key question:

Half a century ago, such figures existed in America: serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage. They are gone now. It would be worth our time to inquire why they disappeared, where they went, and whether—should such a thing be thought desirable—they might return.

Jacobs’s suggested answer is that Christian intellectuals “chose to disappear,” vanishing from public life either into a more privatized religious experience or, more significantly, into their own “subaltern counterpublics.” As they were less likely to be given space in the standard organs of public discourse—the magazines and newspapers, the talk shows and radio programs—they formed their own contexts and structures of discourse. As Jacobs observes, “Subaltern counterpublics are essential for those who have never had seats at the table of power, but they can also be immensely appealing to those who feel that their public presence and authority have waned.”

Where Did the Christian Intellectuals Go?

These subaltern counterpublics—Christian colleges, publishing houses, journals, and so on—proved successful and nurtured many brilliant minds. But there was a problem: they weren’t driving the public conversation. What’s more, many Christian intellectuals…


To read the rest of this article, visit https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-collapse-of-american-protestantism1.