Friday, March 13, 2009

The Collapse of Evangelical Christianity

We are on the verge--within 10 years--of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity...  Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants.  At least according to a gentleman by the name of Michael Spencer .  In an insightful and challenging (and prophetic?) article, he spells out why evangelical Christianity will fail, what to expect, and the opportunities that such a collapse will give rise to.


Why is evangelicalism doomed?  According to Spencer, it boils down to a confusion of identity and a loss of theological depth.  We have identified ourselves too closely with the culture war and political conservatism.  We teach our young people why they should be against gay marriage or abortion more than we teach them about Jesus.


We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.


At the same time we have forgotten to teach foundational biblical principles.


Our young people... do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community.


So what can we expect in the near future?  As the evangelical movement begins to dissolve, what survives will certainly change shape.  3 major points:


1. Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.


2. Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism.


3. Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures...  Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens... A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.


Is there any good in this?  Such a dynamic shift will provide many opportunities for a deeper Christianity.  While mega-church sentimentalists will cling to a shallow, numbers-oriented spirituality, others will choose to deepen their foundational understanding of the Gospel.  While some will try to adapt to the changing culture by emphasizing pragmatic, consumer-driven Christianity, others will follow the example of Pentecostalism and step into a more Spirit-led Christianity.


We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.


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.


Change is always painful, but if we believe that God is in control then it is also a process filled with hope that He is changing us into something better.


josh r

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