Monday, October 5, 2009

Are Evangelicals About to Collapse?

We read this article for systematic theology. I'm curious what you all think about this. I invite your comments.

The coming evangelical collapse
An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise.
By Michael Spencer
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

Why is this going to happen?

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

Read the rest of the article at http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html

Or, if you would prefer to read the original blog posts:
http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-original-coming-evangelical-collapse-posts

3 comments:

Andrew in America said...

well it's late and i wasn't going to read it all, but i did...

first thoughts are:

Without saying that I agree or disagree, he gives almost no evidence for any of his claims. The "Why is this going to happen" section is filled with "reasons" that just end with him making declarative statements like, "Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive." Some of his reasons may be valid points against evangelicalism but I don't think he supports his somewhat radical idea very well.

It is not clear how completely this collapse will be, given what he said about some outstanding small group that will try to save it, and about how "many" people will gravitate toward the Eastern Orthodox or Catholic traditions. Is everyone else just going to leave the church?

He seems very positive about charismatic churches, even saying "If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Holy Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing." But based on what you've seen of the church in Africa, do you think this is really true at all? And how likely is it that charismatic churches will suddenly have a great love for traditional orthodoxy?

An interesting article, but I feel like he's just taking what people have been saying for years, summarizing it and taking it one step further. Still, now I'm curious what you think!

David said...

Hey, so I was waiting to see if there would be any more comments but as their don't seem to be, I'll give my contribution. I agree with you that he doesn't support his argument very well. He gives a time frame of 10 years, and I think that is highly unlikely. He points out the problem evangelicals have in linking themselves so strongly with the conservative political movement, but I feel that is changing with our generation. When I think about where the trends at Wheaton are going, it is definitely away from a strong allegiance to any political party, but particularly the Republican party, in favor of more nuanced positions on issues, and much more focus on social justice and more traditionally "liberal" causes. If that continues, I think it could greatly neutralize that particular problem.

Most of the claims were quite broadly stated, and I'm somewhat unsure of how accurate they are. Like that the youth are not being raised adequately to pass on Christianity--I suppose that could be true, but doesn't every generation always say that? It seems to me you could make the opposite argument there is a very vibrant Christian youth culture, and many are experiencing community and spiritual disciplines.

I was surprised the emerging church was singled out as vanishing completely. I doubt that. I do agree that we need to break off the prosperity gospel's choke hold on evangelicalism and charismatic churches especially.

The other thing about this article my British friend pointed out is that this already happened in Britain, and they survived. It wasn't like an end of the world type event, it merely clearly away all the nominal cultural Christians and pared Christianity down to more genuine and less merely social expression.

So my conclusion would be that he could be right, and time will tell. But I'm pretty skeptical.

Okay Sure said...

I'm totally feeling this.

Bring it on.