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The Coming Evangelical Collapse

Interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor by Michael Spencer today that I came across via Rod Drehr. He argues the bold and stark thesis that “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.” Wow! That’s thesis for you. At least we’ll know for sure whether or not he was wrong in ten years. Here are his seven little points that form the nucleus of the article:

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.

The author predicts three developments that will occur in light of this debacle. 1) There will be ongoing migration of former evangelicals into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. 2) Pentecostalism and the influence of Christianity and the global south will make missionary impact in the West and form new and different sorts of churchs. 3) There will be a significant house church movement, emphasizing discipleship and “empire subversion.”

Interesting forecast. Not without some merit, I think.

17 Comments

  1. dave wrote:

    Those points are stark and are true for all of my understanding of evangelicalism. Like Drehr, I’m really not familiar enough with evangelicalism to say much of substance in response, although (unlike Drehr?) I was pretty much raised as an evangelical, so I may be a case of someone who is an example of Spencer’s point(s).

    I’m really curious to see what those who are more well-versed (no pun intended) evangelicals have to say. I’ve found myself mostly moving away from evangelicalism, even though I go to a school that is evangelical and am part of a church community there that is evangelical. Most of my (admittedly somewhat shallow) influences are outside of what I think would be considered evangelical.

    The point that I empathize most with is the point “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.” This is where I found myself about four years ago after attending Christian K-12 schools my entire life, and in many ways, I still struggle with articulating some of this.

    It would be interesting to have someone like Mark Noll comment on this thesis.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  2. Alex wrote:

    Halden,

    Have you read Michael Spencer’s blogs, “The Internet Monk” or “Jesus Shaped Spirituality”? I’ve been reading him for years and consider him the best Christian blogger out there.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  3. Chris wrote:

    Thanks for this, Halden. I’ve always wondered if evangelicalism shouldn’t just implode or whether the term was worth reclaiming for those of us in the hipster crowd. (As one fellow editor to another, you misspelled collapse in the blog title. Two LLs not one.)

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  4. roger flyer wrote:

    Wow!
    Ow!
    I’m speechless.
    Who can be saved?!

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Damn you, spellchecker! Chris, I hope what you take away from this is that I am so meticulously doing my actual editorial work that I am not paying enough attention to the blog.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  6. roger flyer wrote:

    Halden-

    Dude-
    You make spelling, grammatical (and judgment) errors almost every blog!

    That said, you speak ‘prophetically’ on the edge of the empire to a few tens or hundreds of us (even a thousand of us!?) and we love it! (I think I speak for us on the fringes… :)

    This post startled and titilated me. I don’t mean this to be incendiary.
    Bring it on spell checker.

    As a recovering evangelical pastor, I find this post disturbing, insightful, obvious, alarming, intoxicating and ‘redemptive’ (i.e I feel personally exonerated–as one who was rejected, betrayed and marginalized for challenging the status quo of evangelicalism…

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Why am I more put off by the spelling errors than those of judgment. Self-analysis is a bitch.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    And if you associate me with the word “prophetic” again, I may have to ban you, Roger.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  9. roger flyer wrote:

    Again Sir John Calvin?

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink
  10. roger flyer wrote:

    I mean et tu Brute?

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  11. aaron g wrote:

    Thanks for this.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  12. Adrian Woods wrote:

    I sure hope he is right.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Permalink
  13. Theophilus wrote:

    If the “anti-Christian” backlash the article refers to actually happens, then maybe us Mennonites can have another mass emigration. The Dutch-German-Russian Mennonites have traditionally had a mass emigration every 150 years or so, and the clock on North America is about fifteen years away from the next regularly scheduled exodus.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  14. N. Dan Smith wrote:

    “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” ~ John 12:24

    Evangelicalism’s gotta die if it wants to partake in the resurrection. =P

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  15. michel f. wrote:

    As someone who is slowly quitting the church (the faith?) I think the sexual ethic focus seems the most out of place. Urban people no longer buy the sexual ethic evangelicals and all Christians emphasize. It hold teens until they ‘break’ then 1/2 leave, the other half return when they are ‘done’ to ‘protect’ their kids from teen or pre-marital sex. And sprinkle in lessons on Noah and the flood and David and Goliath whatever that has to do with it.

    Any Christianity that makes it through this collapse will likely be light on sexual ethics. It’s enough to have to fight the radical biological claims of evolution against religion that one shouldn’t have to fight biology in one’s own person.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 10:15 pm | Permalink
  16. Mike Bull wrote:

    “The sooner God destroys the world of evangelical gnosticism, the sooner authentic Christian churches can begin to do what we are called upon to do.”

    James Jordan overstates the case but makes some good observations about evangelicalism in “Obama as Fool”

    http://biblicalhorizons.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/obama-as-fool/

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 5:12 am | Permalink
  17. Mike Bull wrote:

    And Doug Wilson has comments here:
    http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=6381

    “There are (at least) two kinds of disasters. One is when an asteroid lands on the most beautiful albaster-gleamy city we have. This is disaster straight up. Then there is the disaster revelatory — it was a disaster all along, and now we know about it… The coming evangelical collapse will be the disaster revelatory.”

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 5:27 am | Permalink

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  1. some random things worth looking into… » don furnaloni on Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    [...] Evangelicalism as we know it will collapse within 10 years [H/T: Halden] [...]

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