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The coming evangelical collapse

March 11, 2009

The Christian Science Monitor had a great opinion piece on their website today, written by Michael Spencer.  The article puts words to feelings I’ve had for quite a while now.  I want to read through it and bring my thoughts to the table.

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.

I’m not sure I like the wording.  I would clarify that “evangelical Christianity” is not the same as “authentic Christianity“.   I would substitute “evangelical Christianity” for American, western churchianity.  This is what will collapse – the overblown, bubble world in which Christians only interact with themselves and not the real world.  I pray this folds, and folds soon!!

Spencer gives seven reason for his thesis.

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.

I’m in absolute total agreement with him on this one.  In America, one Christian = one Republican vote.  Or so it was in the past. While I am concerned with the ramifications of same-sex marriage and abortion, those two topics are not the only two we have to be concerned with.

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.

Ouch. This one really, really hurts.  I’m a parent of a teen ager, an almost teen ager, and not quite a teen.  I feel the sting of this reprimand.  Do I expect the local Christian school and local youth group to do my job and disciple my children for me?  If I sequester my children from everything that isn’t “christian“, won’t that turn them into more devoted followers of Jesus?  Do I really have to make my kid watch Bible Man (follow the link if you think I’m joking)  instead of Spider Man?   Ugh….I am not advocating that we stop parenting responsibly.   I need to live my faith in a real world way which my children can see so they can emulate it and make that same faith their own. And no offense to Youth Pastors! You all know who you are!  I admire the work and time you give to my kids!!

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile.

I don’t believe there is anything more to say about this point!  I do have to point out that there is a flourishing movement that tries its best to be an authentic gathering place for Christians and non-Christians alike.  Be it home churches, churches in parking lots, churches in coffe shops, churches just about anywhere.  Many Christians are finally waking up and realizing that they ARE the Church and can be that Church anywhere they go.  (Check out The God Journey website and podcast! Brad Cummings and Wayne Jacobsen will make you think deeply as you laugh your head off!)

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.

We had our children in a Christian school for about 3 years and were shocked to find they were behind academically when we moved them to a public school!  Points 2 and 4 are tied directly to parental involvement.   We can not drop our children off at a Christian youth group or a Christian school and expect them to become Christian.  Our faith has to permeate everything we do and everything we are for it to rub off on our kids!

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.

Should we care how the world views us?  Isn’t the Truth offensive?  Is taking on a “less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive” compromising the faith?  Good questions to ask, but the answers I hear from fellow believers (even in my own congregation!) scare me!  Jesus wasn’t offensive to anybody but the religious establishment.  The poor and oppressed and drunkards and whores loved Him and wanted to be with Him.  What do those people look like today?  The poor and oppresed and trans-gendered and abortion-promoting and evolutionist?  Why do we pick fights along this line?   Do we water down Jesus warnings about the power and consequences of sin?  Absolutley not.  Can I love a trans-gendered abortion-promoting evolutionist and have dinner with ’em and be part of their life?  Absolutely!  That’s what Jesus would do.

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.

This is a restatement of number 2,  so see my comments there.

7. The money will dry up.

Again, ouch.  Talk about being hit where it hurts.  Here is where I insert my tirade against ministry monetary mis-managment.   What does happen if the money dries up?  I have be careful here, as I do have close friends who do earn a living from ministry work.  I believe in what they do with my whole heart.

Imagine with me though, if, the money people gave to their local congregation was spent entirely on helping the poor and down-trodden.  How would the pastor get paid?  What about the secretary and youth pastor and janitor?  Obviously these titles would have to be redefined.  The entire organizational structure of  “church” would need to be redfined.  I don’t want to talk about that here; I’ll save that for another blog post.

This post is getting rather long, so I’ll wrap it up.  Please leave comments and tell me what you think!!

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2 Comments
  1. Matt Jennings permalink
    March 11, 2009 9:34 pm

    Bill,
    This is an incredibly interesting series of statements. I don’t want to persist as an echo to what you said, but I truly agree with the overtones of it all. It’s difficult to wrestle with these ideas without becoming exhausted by the notion that most of the wrestling I do/have done is with people IN THE CHURCH over these viewpoints! Anyway, it’s rad to hear your thoughts!

  2. March 12, 2009 6:30 pm

    So what am I going to do in 3 years when youth pastor as a vocation ceases to be an option? 🙂

    The truth is I have thought MANY of these very sentiments for quite a while, and because of it many of my old “Christian” friends no longer think I am Christian.

    If I would rather see my money go to helping a homeless person receive shelter/food than a church building, I am labeled a socialist.

    If I would rather have dinner with a bunch of guys who drink/smoke/cuss than with an affinity-based small group, I am endangering my faith.

    If I would like to see a gay couple be welcomed into a 9am worship service, I obviously don’t know what God thinks about gays.

    It is so ironic that it is okay to do “outreach”, but not okay that I’d rather spend time with people who don’t know Jesus than those who think they do.

    I can say that I love Jesus with my entire being, but because I do not line up behind Republican/Conservative agendas, I am not doing what Jesus would do.

    I, probably like both you and Matt, have a bunch more to say about this, but honestly I’d rather live it, have Christians label and slander me, and see people who were once dead become alive in Christ.

    Love you guys!
    matt

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