Evangelicalism’s collapse?  

Posted by Denis Haack in ,

There are hints—rather loud ones, actually, if you have ears to hear—that the face of Western Christianity is on the cusp of great change.


Look at the global picture, for example. In terms of sheer numbers and vitality the dynamic for the expansion of evangelical faith has shifted from the West to Africa, Asia, and South America. There is little evidence that evangelicals in America are even aware of this shift, to say nothing of seriously reflecting on its implications for the church.


Or listen to the voices that have been using sociological research to identify cultural trends that grant insight into how things may unfold in the decades ahead. One such voice is that of Michael Spencer, who published, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” an article worth reading and discussing with care. You can read it here.


Approximately 30% of Americans can be identified as “evangelicals,” though some in that number would dispute the definition used. Spencer argues that within ten years or so, that number will drop by half. Some evangelicals will be swept by the tide of skepticism, others will morph into an even more individualized spirituality, and once again there will be scores who leaven evangelical Protestantism for Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.


Spencer does not claim to be a prophet, and we must always remember that cultural trends and sociological research cannot by its nature capture the gracious plans of God’s Spirit. Still, to ignore these trends and dismiss the research is to live foolishly. When Jesus was alive there were a group of believers who were active in their faith, eager to obey God’s word, and convinced that God would save his people and their land if only everyone came to believe God as they did. They were Pharisees, and Jesus was scathing when he rebuked them for being blind.


Some of what Spencer writes is undoubtedly correct. For example, consider three of the reasons (out of seven) he lists as to why the evangelical collapse will occur:


“Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.”


“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.”


“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.”


Michael Spencer, a Kentuckian who describes himself as “a postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality,” goes on to suggest what things might look like after the collapse, and then poses some thoughtful questions that are worth careful reflection.


This is not the counsel of despair. “Despite all of these challenges,” Spencer says, “it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, ‘Christianity loves a crumbling empire.’ We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born… We need a 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.”


Well said.


Source: Thanks to my friend, Kevin McMullen (Winston-Salem, NC), for sending me the link to Michael Spencer’s piece, originally published in The Christian Science Monitor (March 10, 2009).


This entry was posted at Thursday, March 19, 2009 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



There have been many responses to this article, including these:

Christianity Today:

D.G. Hart:

Sean Lucas:

Thanks to Mr. Spencer for starting the discussion.

March 19, 2009 at 3:41 PM

You can also read the entire original series at Spencer's blog at internetmonk.com. I think he posted something recently looking to all of them.

March 19, 2009 at 5:49 PM

"God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." I Cor. 1:27-29

March 21, 2009 at 2:02 PM

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