“The coming evangelical collapse” - I don’t see it

Both Matt MacAdam and Bill Berger have pointed me to an article by Michael Spencer called 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
(the original, complete posts can be found at Spencer’s website: The Original Coming Evangelical Collapse Posts). While a lot of things that Spencer said resonate with me, I don’t know if I completely agree with where he thinks evangelicals are heading. While I won’t do a full commentary here, I wanted to mention a few things about his article.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants.

This is a pretty bold statement. To Spencer’s credit, he is not claiming that this is news or necessarily backed in research; it is his commentary on the way he sees things. That being said, it is still a bold statement. Here are the primary reasons he thinks Evangelicalism will collapse:

Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake.

While I think this was especially true in the 80s and 90s, I think this has lessened as of late. Many want to distance themselves from the religious right. While I am conservative in my politics, I don’t really associate myself with them, and I know that many others don’t either.

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.

I completely agree. I do think that the youth need to be aware of culture and how it impacts the church, but they also need to know where their faith comes from and what it is based on. They should be able to articulate what they believe and why just as easily as they can articulate what happened on the latest reality show.

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

I don’t think that my church really falls into any of those categories. I don’t feel I am saying that just because I am biased, but because the church is vibrant, relevant, and has a real, meaningful impact on our city.

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.

I am not exactly sure what he means by that. Is he saying evangelical seminaries or graduate schools are not proper educational institutions? Regent might disagree with that (and so would I).

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.

This is another statement that I cannot totally buy. I think that many churches now see the need to work in their communities, not just because they want more people to come, or even people to come to Christ (even if they would like that to happen), but because they are understanding that there is a huge need in their community. There is always “good” to be done and churches are starting to realize that more and more.

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.

While Evangelicals aren’t really “strong” here in the northwest, this is definitely a concern. Instilling values in our children in the midst of many conflicting world views can be a difficult, but necessary task that we are all responsible for.

The money will dry up.

Well, sure, that is possible. But wherever people find value, their money will follow.

With the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey noting that “non-religious” populations are on the rise and many Protestant denominations on the decline, evangelicals definitely have reason to worry. But, in my opinion, there aren’t actually fewer religious people, but merely more people who are being more honest with their affiliations and beliefs. It would be my contention that nominal Christians (of which there are definitely many) are realizing that they no longer have to identify themselves with Christianity if they don’t actually believe the things that are part of the faith. Regardless of why the numbers are declining, I doubt that those of devout faith are willing to let their churches die.

Spencer’s article is well worth the read because he does end on some helpful and hopeful notes.

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.

While I am not as worried about our impending doom, I think his cautions should be heeded.

Hummm… I feel like this post has been a bit of streaming-of-consciousness… but there ya have it.

  1. March 11th, 2009 at 14:12 | #1

    I do think that the Christian evangelical church is dying, but for the better. Instead of complete death and doom, I hope it will bring about new life and vitality to the christian faith. Church as we usually “do church” is losing it’s relevancy and vibrancy, and change is needed greatly.

  2. March 11th, 2009 at 22:42 | #2

    I think what will happen is that the church will be more authentic. I think that those leaving the church were not really a part of it to begin with (and I am not speaking of salvation, I am not, obviously, one to judge that). People have have been going to a building and checking a box that said Christian, but were only so nominally. I guess my big question is this: is the coming collapse a collapse of numbers or is it actually a collapse of people turning from faith?

    I do definitely agree that many churches have to wake up to the surrounding culture. You can only ignore it for so long. The hard part is to be “relevant” (which is a word that trendy church like to throw around a lot, haha) while preaching truth, wisdom, grace, and conviction into people’s lives. I feel that some that want to be “relevant” have moved away from the Gospel message and will actually collapse as well. I like the use of “vibrancy” though. I think that is a good adjective for a church that is paying attention to both culture and the Spirit.

  3. March 13th, 2009 at 16:16 | #3

    Interesting take. I think a little differently. I believe that many people are leaving the church because of it’s inauthenticity. From my experience here in the suburbs of Chicago, the people that are staying in churches aren’t necessarily the “hard-core” true believers, but the stubborn religionists. I think many people are tired of useless traditions performed without meaning. I myself am feeling a little fed up with the “christian church” and “the religious”. I believe that people are leaving because of the way typical religious people are and “do church”; in rote tradition and empty rituals. (I think the churches in the northwest are different than here in the mid-west and the “south” in the sense that they are beginning to be more authentic. But here, it is just awful battling the chains of religion, and seeing its generational bondage)

  4. March 13th, 2009 at 16:19 | #4

    To clarify/summarize: I think that the people leaving the church are sometimes the more authentic christians sick of the “old way that we ‘do church’”. I think that many people believe in God and in the Christian faith, but do not want to be a part of the American “Christian church”. Myself included many times.

  5. October 8th, 2009 at 23:21 | #5

    There can be no doubt about it that the Christian faith is going through a deep crisis, but there is no saying where this crisis will lead to and where it will end. We should not forget that Christianity has gone through a lot of crises before, but has never disappeared. The final result of all or practically all former crises has been an ever widening and enlarging number of different Christian denominations. So that now we have tens of thousands of different Christian churches and sects. This fact in itself already makes it impossible to talk about Christianity or Evangelicalnism (if this word exists. I am not a native English speaker) as if it is one religion or one religious movement with generally accepted views, ways of thinking and acting. It is not unthinkable and perhaps even likely that of the tens of thousands of Christian Churches that exist today 90% will disappear in the course of the coming years, thousands will lose practically all their members but continue to exist on a very small scale, but some others may well grow bigger and bigger and begin to dominate the Christian scene. Neither is it unthinkable that in the course of the coming years new Christian Churches will come into existence, will grow and grow and finally take the place of our present big Christan Churches.

  1. March 13th, 2009 at 21:07 | #1