Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Death or Change?

Michael Spencer has an article in the Christian Science Monitor, The Coming Evangelical Collapse. He says:

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.

Part of the reason this will happen is because there is no longer a strict definition of what evangelicalism means. Some of that is because it has been caricatured in the media, (not always without reason), but also because the barriers between denominations are breaking down. This started many years ago after Vatican II, (Remember Charismatic Catholic churches?), and is continuing to blossom. We see this displayed in a return to traditionalism or a rejection of almost any tradition i.e. seeker services.

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.

Has this not been occurring for a while? Whether it be the absurd Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution's rejection of a state sponsored church, the taxpayer funding of abortions and now funding for embryonic stem cell research? Or how about how Christians are portrayed in television and movies and the latest anti-theist screeds published in the last few years. Public policy and popular culture have been hostile to Christianity for a while.

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.

I will largely abbreviate why he thinks this will happen. Do go read the whole article when you have time.

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. ....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. Evangelicals have spent more time entertaining youth than teaching an orthodox form of faith that will take root and survive the secular onslaught they will face.

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.

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.

Spencer goes on from there to explain what will be left and the good and the bad of that. It is well worth a longer look.

The one thing I always have trouble with in these types of prognostications is that they take God completely out of the mix. If it were up to the church alone to survive, it would have been over a long time ago. As it is, God is with us. He has sent the Paraklete to guide, convict and protect.

If we take his predictions as a warning and a well intentioned chastisement, then I think we would do well. I hope we do not take it with a sense of doom, because Christ is our hope.

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