I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former “glory.”
He goes on to flesh out further what this would look like – seeing an increasing anti-Christian environment, ministries closing, Christian media being non-existent, churches decreasing in size, Christian school enrollment declining. etc. He makes an important clarifying point.
My prediction has nothing to do with a loss of eschatological optimism. Far from it. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But I am not optimistic about evangelicalism, and I do not believe any of the apparently lively forms of evangelicalism today are going to be the answer.
His reasons for why he thinks this is going to happen:
Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism.
Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught.
Evangelical churches have now passed into a three part chapter: a.) mega-churches that are consumer driven, b) churches that are dying and c) new churches whose future is dependent on a large number of factors.
Despite some very successful developments in the last 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can hold the line in the rising tide of secularism.
The deterioration and collapse of the evangelical core will eventually weaken the missional-compassionate work of the evangelical movement.
At the core of this collapse will be the inability to pass on, to our children, a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of faith.
A major aspect of this collapse will happen because money will not be flowing toward evangelicalism in the same way as before.
I can’t say I share Spencer’s pessimism regarding evangelicals, but I do want to validate his concerns. With evangelicals, our movement should be identified with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not Republicans (or Democrats). We can be Republicans or Democrats, but we all need to remember first and foremost that we belong to the King.
In a series I did on the book UnChristian highlighted much of the problem is not that we are engaged politically, but rather that is all that is seen. We should be providing real tangible non-political solutions, demonstrating compassion, serving our communities, and sharing the Gospel. Do these things and then pursue political activism. So this is valid criticism. We are seeing some of the same issues with those evangelicals who have rejected this and are aligning themselves with the Democratic Party – repeating the mistake.
I share his concern with what I have seen as a lack of discipleship within the church. Parents who aren’t able to articulate their faith and pass it on to their kids. Kids within the church are essentially biblically illiterate. Parents abdicating their role and responsibility to the Church (who is only to be a partner), and then seeing those children’s and youth ministries be more about entertaining and "being relevant". I’m frustrated with watered-down curriculum and those involved in youth ministry and/or children’s ministries more concerned with "how to" methodology than theology. To the point where it seems many lack discernment.
I am also concerned with a consumerism that is present with American evangelicalism. The mentality that "bigger is better." The institutional arrogance of some of these mega-churches. On the other hand I’m frustrated by dying churches who are dying because they are not being missional and reaching out to their neighborhoods and communities.
So I concur with Spencer on a lot of these problems that must be addressed for evangelicalism to once again thrive. I think evangelicals will go through a period of refinement. We may even likely see a decline, but I don’t agree with Spencer that we’ll see an all out collapse.
I’ll end this adventure in prognostication with the same confession I began with: I’m not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions and possibly right, even too conservative on others. 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? Does anyone think all will proceed without interruption or surprise?
Update 3/11/09: Rob Harrison over at The Spyglass wrote a more in-depth critique of of this series of blog posts written by Michael Spencer, and a recent syndication with The Christian Science Monitor. He challenges Spencer’s definition of "evangelical," as well as, other items I don’t address here. Check it out.
Update: 3/19/09: Thanks to Matt Brown for linking here.