Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, wrote a series on "The Coming Evangelical Collapse."  I’ve tucked this away wanting to discuss this here.  His prediction:

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:

  1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The deterioration and collapse of the evangelical core will eventually weaken the missional-compassionate work of the evangelical movement.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

It is an interesting read.  Make sure you read his post on what will be left after this collapse.  Also his thoughts on whether or not some good might come from this.  He ends by stating:

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.

20 comments
  1. I tend to think the iMonk's window opens on a rather smaller swath of church life than he assumes, but I'll grant there are definitely some troubling indicators. From a historical point of view, this is an interesting question to take up; what he seems to be predicting is a total collapse of church life in this country such as has only occurred once before (the last couple decades of the 18th century), but a) that was in part the result of outside influences which have no parallel today, and b) it was followed by significant revival, which might suggest that even if he's right about the collapse, what follows may play out rather differently than he predicts.

    I tend to think, though, following James Hitchcock, that his understanding of the interplay between church and culture and its effects is off; I agree with you in sharing many of his concerns (and particularly w/r/t the idolatrous character of American politics, and the generally poor quality of most churches' political theology), but I think there's a lot more resilience and strength, and a lot more real faith, in the American church than he sees. Underdeveloped, yes; undertaught and mistaught, yes; corrupted by the language and mentality of consumerism, yes; but I do think it's out here. And I think that in his pessimism, the iMonk is functionally ruling out the Holy Spirit, and I think we should never do that. (Especially since, while I've learned to be more skeptical about periods like the Second Great Awakening than I used to be, I really do have a gut feeling that we may well see a true period of national revival some time in the relatively near future. Odd thing for a Reformed/Presbyterian type to say, but there you are.)

  2. I agree with you I think that a collapse, decline will end up seeing a revival. And we shouldn't rule out what the Holy Spirit can do.

    Not a strange thing for a Reformed/Presbyterian guy to say at all. I hope that you are right about a national revival. We need it.

  3. There is a lot of truth in this.

    If you ascribe to dispensationalism, this time has been coming for some time now, as we are now into “progressive dispensationalism.” You can see it coming… that pale, white horse, that is.

    This culture is progressing into a humanistic arena for social Darwinism. Man is learning to only trust thyself and has no shame for persecuting Christians or lambasting God with their vitriol.

    Good thing another word for this dispensation is called “GRACE” because this world sure needs a lot of it. How much is left until “KINGDOM” and “ZIONIC” dispensation shows up? Well, ask the horse when you hear a trumpet.

    Peace, Shane. Nicely done, brother.

    HiScrivener

  4. This saddens me but I can't deny the “writing on the wall.” Something else that has eroded values for our children is divorce. Long term marriage such as my parents (57 years) is rare and something I could not give to my own children. How we get back to our Christian roots OR forge a new path in the same vein, I do not know.

  5. I think one thing is the virulence of evil in the world today. We are approaching (probly in) the end of the end times. Evil becomes more wicked. The compelling nature of the argument of the opposition to Christianity becomes more virulent a strain of evil. As far as evangelism, the false will no longer entertain Christianity in large segments. The fact is that no one can be saved apart from grace. The power of the spirit of antichrist in the reprobate today, as I see things, will cause them to separate from Christianity; not embrace it at a social, but unspiritual, level.

    I see Great Awakening coming. The church itself purifying doctrinally spiritually and unifying; separating from the world as the world and the church become potently spiritually oppositional.

    God bless.

  6. “We should be providing real tangible non-political solutions, demonstrating compassion, serving our communities, and sharing the Gospel.”

    Most churches — especially including the megachurches I know — do that. That's just not what makes the news. Bob Briner in Roaring Lambs mentioned this — we have to learn to help our neighbors see the part they need to see.

  7. 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

    Shane, I see this everyday in my Ministry. I fight all the time with the unwillingness of parents to take responsiblility for their own kids, they want me to be judge, jury, and executioner. For instance, one of my students, a 13 year old boy, had a girl break up with him and he was in a rage, tearing up the house and fighting with his mom about it. So what did the family do instead of deal with the situation? They called me to come over in the middle of the night. Now, I didn't mind to help, but situations like that call for parents, not Youth Pastors. Sorry to ramble.

  8. I have been listening to a series of messages (http://www.cor.org/worship-sermons/sermon/) titled “When Christians Get it Wrong”. In this series the pastor presents a series of objections that young adults have with their parents brand of Christianity. Top on the list is their belief that Christians hate gays.. he also deals with the idea that we know that we are hypocrites but act like we are not.. also presented is our arrogance towards people in other religions.. and our disdain for science.

    I think that Evangelicalism either has to change or iMonk's prognostication will come to pass. We need to find a way to become salt and light in our culture.. we need to be different but when it comes to important issues like divorce we are simply not. We choose to spend almost all of our financial resources on buildings and salaries while people are homeless and hurting.. it is an ugly and unattractive picture.

    These are a few of the reasons I consider myself a post-evangelical.

    Thanks for listening.

  9. The same could be said of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. What is happening right now is the devil is playing hardball with the church and is in rapid succession sniping off those that Jesus called the chaff.

  10. Right back to what I have said over and over again. I am not willing to concede a coming collapse, but the Current Crisis is Clear.

    So let us start with a different Title. The Current Evangelical Crisis. Using most of the same reasons that imonk has stated.

    So what can we do now?? That is what we should be discussing. Not to mention devoting ourselves to prayer, and praying for a New Reformation. Something has to change!

  11. Great minds think alike Coleen!

    I would say first and foremost to quote from Driscoll – that we can't have a real Christian church or ministry apart from a “rigorous theology of the cross.”

    We nee to train our kids, youth and adults to think Christianly and to live out a biblical worldview.

    Because right now the majority just plain don't.

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