When Michael Spencer (The internet Monk) recently predicted a Coming Evangelical Collapse, while many agreed, there were also many horrified at such a prediction. While Mr. Spencer has only said out loud what many of us have been thinking, he may have gained more attention because of the specifics of his predictions. Much of what is in his articles is just a rehashing of other things that have been floating around for about the past 20 years.
It was in 1990 that CURE, Christians United for Reformation came along. Out of CURE came the radio show, The White Horse Inn and the magazine Modern Reformation. Both of which still continue to this day. One of the reasons that CURE came about was out of a concern for the direction of the American Evangelical Church, which was displaying a fall from the original tenants of the Protestant Reformation. While there are differing theological persuasions represented by the radio hosts, and contributors to the magazine, the one thing that remains consistent is a commitment to the principle slogans of the protestant reformation, the five solas. As proclaimed at the beginning of each WHI radio show by Michael Horton, the host is “Know what you believe and why you believe it,” which is something that has been lost in the Evangelical movement.
As CURE was spreading the message through radio and print during the 90’s, there was a small reformation of sorts occurring in different groups across the country. There seemed to be an increase in the interest in conferences like The Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, Ligonier conferences and so on. Many who grew up in Evangelicalism were now being educated about Reformation theology. There was however disappointment by many who were joining Reformed and Lutheran Churches, and found them to be complacent, and what they defined as ‘dead’. This may be what contributed to the rise in Reformed Baptist and Sovereign Grace Churches.
1994 brought about the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. This group of leaders from various denominations came together to unite on a common goal for the Church, “. . .to repent of its worldliness, to recover and confess the truth of God’s word as did the reformers, and to see that truth embodied in doctrine, worship, and life.” (Taken from Alliance.org, who we are.)
In 1996, out of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals came the Cambridge Declaration. This was a statement of faith compiled mainly by Reformed, Lutherans and Reformed Baptists who were concerned about the state of Evangelicalism and our culture‘s influence on the church. The Cambridge declaration in it’s conclusion had a call to both repentance and reformation.
John Armstrong was one character in this unfolding call to reformation. In 1997 he edited a book with articles by many of the players, called The Coming Evangelical Crisis: Current Challenges to Authority of Scripture and the Gospel. One key element of this book points to one of the biggest problems in Evangelicalism, the loss of sola scriptura.
It was only one year later that the Compromised Church: The present Evangelical Crisis, another book edited by John Armstrong made its way onto bookshelves. This book like the first had articles by many who were part of the movement.
Over the last several years we have watched Evangelicalism continue on the same path, with the increase of mega churches, a loss of the original tenants of the protestant reformation, an unclear understanding of the gospel and so on. But there has been a Reformation happening on the sidelines of American Christianity. Even Time magazine recognizes ‘The New Calvinism’ as one of the top ideas changing America right now. Something is happening, just not to the degree and speed in which some of us had hoped. But it may be this small consistent growth that builds a stronger foundation that survives an Evangelical collapse. And with conferences, websites, books, etc. the message has been getting out. There is a renewal in some circles of sola scriptura, biblical theology and a clear understanding of the gospel.
While some of the names in the movement continue to change and we continue to have minor theological differences that distinguish us from one another, the main goal remains the same. What is happening in this new reformation however is different than that of the Protestant Reformation which seperated us from the Catholic Church. Now the American Evangelical Church is on the other side of us in the fight.