Monday, June 29, 2009

Is Evangelicalism Headed for Collapse?

In an article in the Christian Science Monitor Michael Spencer says that within 10 years Evangelicalism will experience a collapse. The article is a summary of a series of blogs from Spencer's . The picture he paints is a bleak one. He says, "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."

While I don't share his pessimistic forecast I think some of his observations are spot on. For example, he says "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."

The reason so many youth are leaving the church is because they have never owned for themselves the faith of their parents. They reason, "That may have worked for mom and dad but it doesn't cut it for me." Religion is reduced to matters of pragmatism rather than veracity. Spencer notes that the beneficiaries of this collapse will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. There has been a resurgence of interest on the part of Evangelicals in these branches of Christendom. But again I'm not sure the appeal is because these are seen as true but rather because they have an aesthetic and historic appeal. The liturgy, the icons, the rich tradition appeal to a generation that is searching for an anchor during an unstable period of their lives. And some kids would just enjoy the shock value that would come with the "conversion" to one of these traditions.

Spencer predicts that "the emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision." This I could actually see happening.

Finally, he notes that the collapse may not be all that bad. Some good may come of it. He concludes, "We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture. I'm not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential?"

I found the article interesting if not just a bit overly pessimistic and perhaps a bit unaware of some things happening within Evangelicalism. His warnings should be heeded even if you don't adopt his vision of the future. See the response by William Lane Craig on his Reasonable Faith Podcast.

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