October 17, 2017

Another Look: The Coming Evangelical Collapse (2)

panoramic-lightning-storm-and-prairie-church-mark-duffy

Note from CM: Looks like we’ll be on this subject for a couple of weeks. Since we’re five years out, I will re-post all three of Michael’s “Collapse” pieces, reflect on “My So-Called Evangelical Life” through the lens of Steven P. Miller’s “The Age of Evangelicalism,” and . . . well, we will see what else.

• • •

What will be left after the evangelical collapse?

1. An evangelicalism far from its historical and doctrinal core. Expect evangelicalism as a whole to look more and more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. The determination to follow in the methodological steps of numerically successful churches will be greater than ever. The result will be, in the main, a departure from doctrine to more and more emphasis on relevance, motivation and personal success….with the result being churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.

For some time, we’ve been at a point that the decision to visit a particular evangelical church contained a fairly high risk of not hearing the Biblical Gospel. That experience will be multiplied and expanded in the years to come. Core beliefs will become less and less normative and necessary in evangelicalism.

2. An evangelicalized Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Two of the beneficiaries of the coming evangelical collapse will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been steadily entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more media and publishing efforts aimed at the “conversion” of evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox ways of being Christian.

A result of this trend will be the increasing “evangelicalization” of these churches. This should yield interesting results, particularly in the Orthodox church with its ethnic heritage and with the tensions and diversities in Catholicism that most converts never see during the conversion process. I expect the reviews of the influence of evangelicalism in these communions to be decidedly mixed.

3. A small portion of evangelicalism will continue down the path of theological re-construction and recovery. Whether they be post-evangelicals working for a reinvigoration of evangelicalism along the lines of historic “Mere Christianity,” or theologically assertive young reformed pastors looking toward a second reformation, a small, but active and vocal portion of evangelicalism will work hard to rescue the evangelical movement from its demise by way of theological renewal.

This is an attractive, innovative and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches. But I do believe many evangelical churches and schools will benefit from this segment of evangelicalism, and I believe it will contribute far beyond its size to the cause of world missions.

4. I believe the emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision. I expect to continue hearing emerging leaders, seeing emerging conferences and receiving emerging books. I don’t believe this movement, however, is going to have much influence at all within future evangelicalism. What we’ve seen this year with Tony Jones seems to me to be indicative of the direction of the emerging church.

storm-clouds-gather-over-church-ian-middleton5. Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear; they will exist only as a dying form of church. The Southern Baptist Convention will experience dramatic losses in the numbers of churches in the next 25 years. By 2050, the SBC will have half the number of churches it has today. (Who know how many members it will report.) The SBC will become “exhibit A” for the problems of evangelicalism, with fragmentation appearing everywhere and a loss of coherence on many fronts.

The fundamentalist ghetto has been breaking down in my own lifetime, and I expect this will continue. The “Jerry Falwell-Jerry Vines” type of fundamentalist Baptist will become a museum piece by the middle of the century.

6. Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Within that community, the battle for the future of evangelicalism will be fought by those who must decide whether their tradition will sink into the quicksand of heresy, relativism and confusion, or whether Charismatic-Pentecostalism can experience a reformation and renewal around Biblical authority, responsible leadership and a re-emergence of orthodoxy..

I see signs of life on all those fronts, but the key issue of leadership and the preparation of leaders leaves me with little hope that Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity can put its house in order. The dynamics of leadership within this tradition have conspired to bring the worst kinds of leaders to the forefront.

The stakes in Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity are very high. It has become a worldwide missions phenomenon, and it has become a community carrying the most virulent and destructive heresies and errors in evangelicalism. The next 15-25 years will be crucial for this community. I am hopeful, but not optimistic. I see and hear little from this community’s younger leadership that indicates there is anything close to a real recognition of the problems they face.

7. A hope for all of evangelicalism is a “rescue mission” from the world Christian community. If all of evangelicalism could see the kind of renewal that has happened in conservative Anglicanism through the Anglican Mission in America and other mission efforts, much good would be done. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. Will they come? Will they be able to bring to our culture a more vital form of Christianity? I do not know, but I hope and pray that such an effort happens and succeeds.

At present, most of evangelicalism is not prepared to accept pastors and leadership from outside our culture. Yet there can be little doubt that within our western culture there is very little evidence of an evangelicalism that can diagnose and repair itself.

8. A vast number of parachurch ministries are going to become far less influential, and many will vanish. The same will likely be true from everything from Christian media to publishing. This will throw what remains of evangelicalism back on the local church, and that moves us to my last post, a consideration of whether this collapse is a good or bad thing.

9. I believe that the missionary sending agencies of evangelicalism will survive the coming collapse, but will be greatly weakened by significant decreases in the giving base. It is time for mission strategies among evangelicals to change, and it is long past time for westerners to use their resources to strengthen work within a nation and not to just send Americans to the mission fields.

Next: Is all of this a good or a bad thing?

Comments

  1. RE: #7 – the past five years have given little cause to hope in this regard. The majority of evangelicals, following the mirror of the culture, appear to be sliding into extreme patriotism and isolationism. The Anglican renewal has fractured, especially after the very public and acrimonious split within the AMIA. If anyone has some good news (pun intended) to report on this front, I’d love to hear it – but right now I’m just not seeing it.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Agree. I do not yet see any decline in potency, but an increased level of fever.

      It is hard to be completely unbiased in reading such things but the local evangelical-talk radio seems dialed up – more angry, more paranoid, way more nationalist. Some of their stuff seems returned to a 1980s level of apocalyptic zany.

      I really cannot see any foreign teachers getting much traction.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Agree. I do not yet see any decline in potency, but an increased level of fever.

        If at first you don’t succeed, DOUBLE DOWN AND SCREAM LOUDER.

        P.S. I’m a veteran of the original “1980s level of apocalytpic zany”. It’s NOT a place you want to be.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “The Anglican renewal has fractured, especially after the very public and acrimonious split within the AMIA.”

      This is unsurprising. While couched as a “renewal,” the AMIA was a collection of groups within the Episcopal Church who were unhappy with the Episcopal Church for one reason or another, typically some combination of gay and/or female priests and bishops. This doesn’t mean they had anything else in common. The Episcopal Church is a pretty diverse group, including Anglo-Catholics who are more Catholic than the Pope, charismatic Episcopalians who hold their hands up in the air and sway back and forth with blissful expressions on their faces, the crowd who confuse Christian worship with multi-cultural encounter groups, and so on. Some fraction of Episcopalians were unhappy enough to leave, but this unhappiness was the only thing they had in common with one another. This is not the foundation for a stable group.

      The same thing happened with the Lutherans. For all that the ELCA is considered the “liberal” branch, ten years ago it was not all that uncommon to find some pretty conservative congregations within it. The gay issue came to a head, and these congregations have left. But a church whose ideal is no changes since the day Muhlenberg stepped off the boat and a church who wants to be an Evangelical-style megachurch might agree on no gays, but on nothing else.

      To be blunt, schism is not renewal. It briefly looks like renewal because it generates a lot of energy for a time, but this resemblance is superficial and fleeting.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        >To be blunt, schism is not renewal

        WAIT, WHAT????

        But that is the message of the entire reformation, for hundreds of years now.

        I am joking, but only sorta kinda.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          To word it more carefully, schism is not necessarily renewal. Schism can be (an unfortunate) aspect of renewal, but it also can simply be schism. If you want to argue that the AMiA/ACNA churches are undergoing renewal, show me evidence of something more substantial than some fraction of the Episcopal churches putting a different sign out front.

    • I wouldn’t say the Anglican realignment has irreparably fractured, considering most of those AMiA churches are now with the much larger umbrella of the ACNA. The churches that decided to stay under Rwandan oversight are in full communion with ACNA, as are those aligned with Nigeria’s CANA. AMiA leadership went off on its own, and most of its own churches decided that was a serious misstep.

      (disclosure: I’m an ACNA church member and I know people from my church read this — hi guys =D)

      • Justin said what I was going to say, and with the same disclaimer.

        The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is thriving, thank you very much. For 2013, the ACNA has grown by 13% to about 112k members. ASA is at about 80k, a 16% growth. And these are just the figures from the 74% of parishes and missions that turned in their reports. At its formation in 2009, there were about 700 congregations. In 2013, there were 983. This is a 40% net growth.

        Certainly the “Anglican renewal” is relatively small potatoes in North America. But this kind of growth is certainly not present just about anywhere else, and ACNA is only 5 years old.

        • My experience was that the AMIA and CANA didn’t get along very well, and that much of the growth in either’s case was from people bailing out of other (read Episcopal) churches. YMMV.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            And the stream from Episcopal churches will dry up. It is hard to say exactly when, or how many total will make the jump, but at some point (sooner rather than later, I would guess) those Episcopalians who can’t live within the ECUSA will have gone.

          • I’ve served in two different parishes over the past 5 years. Definitely there’s a core of folks who came over from TEC (to be expected, as the Anglican realignment is somewhat in reaction to things that have happened in TEC over the previous 40-ish years). I haven’t seen much crossover from non-TEC Anglican groups to either parish, other than what you’d expect from folks re-locating. There was also a lot of folks who came over from generic non-denominational churches, some former Roman Catholics, and some other former-mainliners. Both parishes I’ve served in have had a lot of folks who have no prior experience with Anglicanism in any form. It’s a pretty mixed group of folks.

            Again, back to the statistics from the 74% of folks who turned in their reports, the ratio of adult baptisms to child baptisms was 1:2, which is significant for a denomination that does not re-baptize. There were 740 adult baptisms reported and 1932 conversions reported. While those figures indicate that the majority of growth is certainly from other churches rather than from evangelism, they’re not insignificant figures.

            The splintering of AMiA was a major tragedy within Anglican realignment, no doubt, especially with regards to how public it was. But it hasn’t had as big of an effect as one would expect. The figures in 2009 included AMiA; the ones in 2013 do not (with the exception of former AMiA folks that came over after it broke apart; AMiA left the ACNA in 2010). Like I said, ACNA is doing just fine.

            Don’t get me wrong, there are still some crazy things that need to be dealt with: overlapping diocese, major disagreements over the nature of Holy Orders. At our synod last weekend, one of our bishops described ACNA as always seeming like a car crash waiting to happen that would kill the whole things. But it hasn’t. And I don’t expect it to.

            Bottom line is that the figures mean something We’re certainly not the most significant thing going on in North American Christianity, but we’re not a flash-in-the-pan who’s time is over either. I really think things are just getting started.

          • And do you think the children of these newbies, and their children’s children, are likely to stay when they grow up? Or will they follow the example of their parents, or grandparents, and head for the door?

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            Another “revenue stream” for the Continuing Anglicans are Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who want continuity with classical Christianity but who can’t go Orthodox, or Catholic, or Coptic.

          • Robert F: It’s hard to say. While during the first five years of ACNA’s history, the focus has been on making Church Planting part of our denominational DNA, catechesis has become more of a the focus recently. Both parishes I served at have had a ton of little kids and vibrant children’s ministries. They’ve had a good groups of Boomers, X-ers and older Y-ers, and Builders, all of whom tend to fellowship and learn together rather than in age-specific ministries.

            But the teenagers and college-age kids are almost completely absent. I don’t know the national figures on that, to be honest. My experience is anecdotal with regard to demographics. That said, we’ve certainly got multi-generational families here.

            Spine Chewing Friend: That’s very true. And that’s one of the things that Michael predicted.

  2. I read each point and say so true. Looking forward to rebuttal from this community.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > #2. An evangelicalized Catholicism and Orthodoxy

    Is Pope Francis more Evangelical? Most evangelicals I know despise the man with special fury. But they are people who haven’t come out of the movement, so maybe that stands to reason.

    The Catholic community here still feels like it maintains a strong repudiation of core Evangelical values [confrontation, separation, and suspicion]. There is nothing that feels Evangelical, yet anyway [with the exception of maniacal Pro-Lifers -oh boy, they are the same everywhere].

    >#4. I believe the emerging church will largely vanish

    Did he nail this one? This seems like a movement that peaked and is pretty much petered out. It was hard to determine what their distinctive was.

    All the Emergent news feeds I had subscribed to have ceased any traffic within the last few years.

    > #5. Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear;

    Still waiting…. The only churches we’ve lost here are Lutherans and Pentecostals.

    > By 2050, the SBC will have half the number of churches it has today

    Are they loosing churches? I’m not in the south, I have no idea.

    Aside: I’d guess that their buildings are the crappy modern kind and not good candidates for re-purposing. 🙁

    > #8 – A vast number of parachurch ministries are going to become

    This is likely a herd ready to be thinned, so… a lot will die. Although I suspect these things are born and die as part of a regular life-cycle. On the other hand there are numerous para-church organizations in my community that are going strong. The older established ones seem to do fine; the ones that took the go-big-or-go-home approach and institutionalized themselves. Our most notable immigrant, homeless, and mental health organizations are all para-church organizations.

    I’ve dealt with some fly-by-night para=church organizations which the world won’t miss when they are gone. Many of these organizations did little but soak up precious funds – like Christian venture capital start-ups – and had no clear plan or direction. Love is, ultimately, not enough.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Ed Stetzer is the chief numbers guy of the SBC and he has confirmed for years now that Baptisms are down and so is attendance. So yes, the SBC is going to shrink if they don’t do something about it and since their thing to do about it is have bold programs like The Great Commission Resurgence that don’t actually do anything, plus the fact that they’re basing their “decline” off a period when people probably over-consumed religious institutions; I think they probably will shrink a bit in the coming decades.

      • I got my start at Internet Monk by providing statistical support for Michael Spencer’s posts. On Friday I plan to do an update. For example, the Southern Baptist peaked in attendance in 2009, the year that Michael Spencer wrote his posts. Since then (four years of data) they have declined six percent in attendance. This is actually a faster decline than I had predicted. Michael’s Spencer’s thoughts of a decline starting within ten years and being reduced by half in two generations is looking pretty accurate.

        • Faulty O-Ring says:

          But that’s not what he said. He said it would be reduced by half within ten years, and then, in the same opening paragraph, that it would be reduced by half within two generations (however long that may be–surely longer than 10 years).

          • 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 said it would be reduced by half within ten years” – No he didn’t. He said it would be reduced by half within two generations. “within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants”

            I think it is hard to intrepret this as anyway other than the collapse is going to begin within 10 years and will continue for two generations.

          • “continue for two generations” should read “continue to progress for two generations”

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            I see why you might interpret it that way. On the other hand, Spencer says in the same essay that “I fully expect that my children, before they are 40, will see evangelicalism at far less than half its current size and rapidly declining.” So–how old are his children?

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            Never mind–I looked it up. According to his obituary, in 2010 his two children were 21 and 24. So…can we agree that Spencer will be proven either right or wrong by 2029?

        • Christiane says:

          the more strident and fundamentalist leaders in the SBC do promote the concept of ‘exclusivism’ and are very up-front about examining their followers for adherence to their legalism which seems to center more on which social groups must be shunned than how to reach out to those who express diverse viewpoints socially and theologically . . .

          these leaders have a great dislike for questions and for any kind of critical examination coming from outside their circle, and they are swift to kick the fallen in their midst to the curb, as is now happening with Driscoll, who once was an icon among them for his over-the-top display of masculine hubris and his thinly-veiled views on ‘the place of women’

          the ill-will at work within the more strident of these fundamentalist leaders does not seem to work for the whole group well . . . what was turned outward on ‘the others’ now seems easily spun around to create a circular firing squad which has the effect of diminishing the ‘image’ of SBC ‘brotherhood in Christ’ vastly
          AND
          is leading to more and more fractures in areas where ‘acceptable’ diversity was once tolerated, so that now, enmity is growing stronger between those diverse groups within the SBC . . .

          this does seem to uphold Michael Spencer’s theory of a diminishing evangelical fundamentalism . . .
          as recently, more than one ‘great and mighty voice’ in their world has come to shame and then to rejection from the ‘inclusive’ world of the in-group . . .

          some observations, after reading SBC blog articles and comments over a period of years

    • cermak_rd says:

      I think the separation thing is more part of Fundamentalism than it is Evangelicalism.

      IF you go look at the Catholic Answers Forums you will see a lot of former Evangelicals who have converted to Catholicism. Under the best of circumstances, the evangelical movement into Catholicism would renew it and help it face the demographic headwinds it is running into. Unfortunately, sometimes what you get is a Catholic with the worst parts of evangelicalism (including the confrontation part) that become anti-witnesses to Catholicism. And some appear to have switched sides because they see Rome as being Team A in the culture war.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I also wonder what the actual numbers are. I have no actual data, but I suspect that the numbers are small, and disproportionately loud on the internet.

        • Catholics become Evangelicals at serveral times the rate the Evangelicals become Catholic. The number of Evangelicals becoming Catholic is quite small.

          • Yeah, but the Protestants who become Catholic are usually white. The Catholics who become Protestants are hispanic (or a lot of them are, anyway).

            Or putting it in a less racially-charged way: excluding nominal members of one sect converting to being active members of another, looking only at active Catholics in the US who worship primarily in English-speaking congregations, the ratio of in to out is a lot closer to even.

          • Based on what Peter? Do you have a source to back this up?

          • cermak_rd says:

            So? If the normative Catholic in America is Latino, what difference does that make? And yes, I believe Latinos are within one generation of being the majority among Catholics.

  4. “and it has become a community carrying the most virulent and destructive heresies and errors in evangelicalism. The next 15-25 years will be crucial for this community. I am hopeful, but not optimistic. I see and hear little from this community’s younger leadership that indicates there is anything close to a real recognition of the problems they face.” ……….I would like to hear comments on what these are PLEASE. I am in a charismatic church and I am struggling with a lean to orthodox at the moment. Some things do not sit right with me and I am having trouble defining what they are.

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

      It has been 10 years since I worshiped exclusively in a Pentecostal church, but what I saw was a division between the “third wavers”, the ones who went deeply into the apostolic and prophetic movement, and those who didn;t want to buy into it. There is a growing movement in the South for “traditional” First-wave Pentecostalism, deeply infused with Southern evangelical culture; gospel songs rather than praise-‘n–worship music, dinners-on-the-grounds, revivals, etc. It draws an older demographic, but I was familiar with several churches which successfully worked this angle.

      The “third wavers” scared the daylights out of me. In the Bush years,they were getting increasingly more manipulative and intransigent. There are a lot, A LOT of self-appointed luminaries in that movement and very little oversight. Cindy Jacobs and Mike Bickle, for example, came out of nowhere. The idea of “latter-day apostles” wielding authority akin to that of the original Twelve should be a huge warning sign to all Christians. They just ain’t gonna be. Their rhetoric against the rest of Christendom is militant and disturbing, with martial overtones.

      The big problem with Pentecostalism is also its greatest strength. It is so adaptable that you can transplant it easily into just about any culture, but that also means that it is deeply mutagenic. Brazilian Pentecostalism has generated some of the most damaging heresies yet, with personality-cult churches springing up like psilocybin mushrooms in a cow pasture. Usually the heresies involve some variety of E.W. Kenyon-derived prosperity teaching and New Thought with a strong dose of authoritarian leadership. Denial of modern medicine is a fringe teaching, but it never seems to go away no matter how many children die.

      • “Brazilian Pentecostalism has generated some of the most damaging heresies yet”… It may also have generated one of the greatest world cup losses in modern times… numerous brazilian players are penecostal and were, before the competition, quite vocal about this being their God-ordained “time”… a bit of “holy ghost” over-confidence – misleading per chance?

      • cermak_rd says:

        Gospel songs? As in old timey Gospel music? I love those tunes! I still find myself humming “I Saw the Light” and “I’ll Fly Away” on some occasions. Even though my theology is a bit off-kilter from their lyrics, I still love those songs.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Me, too. If I knew of a church near me that sang those songs, I would drop in occasionally.

        • +1

          There were some good things about the ol’ time religion, and that’s one of them.

      • Just spent an hour or two reading stuff on unbiblical doctrines etc on third wave stuff. I would have to say that while all of it compiled is biased in nature as is all opinion and of course using all kinds of scripture to back up ones point there is no doubt that some of the things that have alarmed me are voiced as you have done also. I actually love the old hymns and when they are sung mixed with more modern style worship they are extremely powerful. Once at a men’s retreat when we sang Holy,Holy, Holy in a room just big enough to hold us all I truly felt like I was getting to experience some of Heaven and I felt connected to everyone in there. Never forget it. Randy Clark is less than a mile from my church. I have reservations with alot of what I am hearing and always did. I have asked so many times what is wrong Lord. I do that alot though with many things. One of the biggest things is the teaching of how to pray and see results. It seems to reduce things to formula which seems like an incantation. I have learned a lot going to the church I attend. I am still learning and i wonder sometimes if I’m not growing up a bit more. I will keep reading this site.

        • cermak_rd says:

          The pray and get results mindset seems to reduce the Almighty to nothing but a prayer token vending machine.

  5. I look at the Evangelical landscape on America and see mush that needs to collapse. This conservative biblicism that leads to self-righteousness and pride and an examining of everyone’s holiness (where else can they go…they have no real Christ in the sacraments )…that’s one side…
    and then you have the other end where churches also throw everything back onto you to fix the world. There’s no relief from the law. There’s no rest in Christ. It’s all one big project. Either holiness and right wing politics…or social gospel (fix the world) and left wing politics.

    The churches that are non-political, Cross centered, are an endangered species.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      As well we are moving into a rhetorical space where legalistic bondage has co-opted the lion’s share of religious language, creating a contradiction between what is practiced and what is purported to be taught. For example, the phrase you used, “cross-centered”, is already used by some circles that are definitely works-righteousness based. Same thing with the “gospel” brand (another prediction to add above: the abuse of the word “gospel” will end up causing the next generation to reject the term a unhelpful, much like the term “born again” today). It is similar to what one experiences when a fundamentalist Baptist and a Roman Catholic talk – they are using the same words, but mean different things.

      • Quite true.

        Same language. Different meanings.

        WE know that “Cross centered”, and “gospel centered”, mean the forgiveness of sins for the ungodly. For those who are just not up to it.

        But, of course, the tendency to turn all of this into a great big self-centered project is very real, as we can see all around us and from every quarter.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > As well we are moving into a rhetorical space where legalistic bondage
        > has co-opted the lion’s share of religious language, creating a contradiction
        > between what is practiced and what is purported to be taught.

        Maybe, they might really believe faith-alone, but with a *duty* to confront evil. I don’t know if this is necessarily a theological contradiction – it may simply be a warrior culture. I think once you get to failh-alone everything becomes pretty much impossible to disambiguate.

        > Same thing with the “gospel” brand (another prediction to add above:
        > the abuse of the word “gospel” will end up causing the next generation
        > to reject the term a unhelpful, much like the term “born again” today).

        Done and Done! 🙂 I consider both terms to belong in the useless-noise column. I’d put “cross-centered” there to; I have been hearing that one for decades. These kind of terms, once they trend, have a very short shelf-life of usefulness.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          “Maybe, they might really believe faith-alone, but with a *duty* to confront evil.”

          I think I had something slightly different in mind; keeping the context that I came out of baptist fundamentalism. They had all kinds of *awesome* phrases in the playbook, like “God loves you”, “God forgives you”, “We believe in grace”, etc., but those phrases were often contradicted by what was practiced. The end result was an odd sort of rhetorical space, where communication between sects had to begin with discarding much theological language. As an example of how this will play out in evangelicalism, how long will it be before anyone who talks about a personal conversion experience is automatically assumed to be homophobic, thanks to the rhetoric of Al Mohler and others?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > how long will it be before anyone who talks about a personal conversion
            > experience is automatically assumed to be homophobic

            We are there. That is what “born again” and “evangelical” mean. That is *my* initial read when someone drops one of these terms in conversation. They just happen to still be used occasionally by people who do not realize that.

            I sat in too many church meetings where grand statements always had a coded, or not so coded, nudge-wink-wink-but-we-know-the-real-deal in with them.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      There’s no relief from the law. There’s no rest in Christ. It’s all one big project. Either holiness and right wing politics…or social gospel (fix the world) and left wing politics.

      Either a Gospel without personal salvation, or a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Funhouse mirror reflections of each other. (Or the half-black and half-white aliens in that old original Star Trek episode.) Communism begets Objectivism.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Either a Gospel without personal salvation

        Due to lack of condemnation. I believe the unicorn describes it better.

        “social gospel (fix the world)” is a charicature, I don’t believe many churches exist in that mode. Therapy mode has taken over both sides – Warrior therapy vs. mother therapy. Mother therapy does not do anything more to fix the world than the warrior does.

        • cermak_rd says:

          Perhaps not, but it doesn’t tend to make the adherent toxic to their acquaintances and neighbors.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “MUSH that needs to collapse” — Freudian slip there?

  6. Just a few observations about Pentecostalism. I agree with Asinus Spinas Masticans about the apostolic and prophetic types. It is still strong so look up “prophetic ministries” to get the drift. A personal observation is that this is not new and has popped up throughout the history of Christianity starting with Montanus and has a long list of similar. One could name many,many.
    Now about Pentecostalism in South America. As a missionary in Paraguay in the early 1990’s, we worshiped several times a week with a Metodista group. It was started by two brothers who had been earlier persecuted by Roman Catholic societies, and one fled to Argentina, and one to Brazil. They came back Methodist, but this only partly describes their highly Charismatic lives. Their association was most particularly with the apostolic and prophetic movement from groups in Brazil. I don’t think words can describe some of the spirit filled worship we experienced there. I never have been in anything similar in the USA, even attending some the big names of the movement here.
    None of this displaces the truth that I have experienced about Michael Spencer’s points #6 and #7 in this post. But I do believe the thriving Christian church in many places outside the USA has Pentecostal tendencies. And his main point about leadership problems within this stream is valid, and not addressed as of yet. Of course, You could think about the Quaker, George Fox, and his rejection of theological studies, as a thread that has always been within Pentecostalism. In striving to live in the presence and activity of the Spirit, to whose action they have abandoned themselves in complete passivity like a violin vibrating under a bow, it has always believed in private revelation and a direct fellowship, and sought to quicken souls and to regenerate Christianity. Isn’t it funny that this private style, that doesn’t believe it needs a theologically trained leader, still has a tendency to create leaders that have later been discovered to have authoritarian approaches?

    • cermak_rd says:

      Not just outside the US. In my neighborhood, there are a lot of Latinos (mainly Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants, some folks with Guatemalan and Salvadorean roots). Little Iglesias are everywhere and just about all of them are or have strong tendencies to Pentacostalism and they tend to be Spanish language. They appear to be growing, thriving communities.

    • “Isn’t it funny that this private style, that doesn’t believe it needs a theologically trained leader, still has a tendency to create leaders that have later been discovered to have authoritarian approaches?”

      It is an irony. It’s also one of those ironies that so far in history seems plays out again and again.

      One place you can see it happening: the Second Great Awakening carried with it a new, very strong Democratic rhetoric in which “everyman” interprets and experiences things. What emerged? Lots of strong personalities who became authorities to their respective pockets. Ultimately, the individual doing the interpreting / experiencing tends to want or need to get a script from somewhere. In the absence of a tradition or institution being the repository for this, you are left with individuals who provide the pattern and embody the example. Charisma and method associated with particular people become key.

      This is why fundamentalists and evangelicals tend to have ministries or networks of ministries with personalities at the center, and become emotionally attached to particular figures who mediate between the individual and the Bible interpretation. If the initial leaders disappoint, or simply die, they are hard to replace.

      • A most accurate historical analysis, Danielle. Most of what we see today–and wish we didn’t–in evangelicalism–charismatic and otherwise–has it’s roots in the Second Awakening. It was high in spirit and low in truth.

  7. Whipping up ‘feelings’ and making the whole ball of wax an emotional ‘experience’ is nothing new, of course.

    Luther once quipped about these types that “they have swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all.”

    Again, a natural progression where one has no external promises of God, or real presence of God in the sacraments.

  8. The Mike Warnkes and the Todd Bentleys certainly helped to turn people off.

    Believe it or not, both Jimmy Swaggart and The Bakkers (Jim and Lori this time) are still going strong on cable TV.

    Where do Joyce Meyer and James Robison and Kenneth Copeland and T.D. Jakes fit in all of this? “Christian television” seems to be almost exclusively pentecostal/charismatic except for a few like Jack van Impe and John Ankeborg and Charles Stanley. Around here (Atlanta) people still watch Adrian Rogers services, and he has been dead for years.

    • flatrocker says:

      So glad that EWTN is not considered part of “Christian television.” Sometimes Catholics being accused of not being “Christian” does have its perks.

      As far as EWTN being good entertainment…well let’s save that for another conversation

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Sometimes Catholics being accused of not being “Christian” does have its perks.

        +1

        > As far as EWTN being good entertainment

        Me shudders.. It is unbearably b-a-d.

        • cermak_rd says:

          Now be fair, every now and again it has concerts with classic Sacred music.

          And it has daily Mass, how can Mass be bad (I mean one can always take a snack break during the homily if it veers off into uselessness.)

        • Christiane says:

          EWTN struck me as being a political voice for support for the Republican Party on the question of abortion big time . . .

          I admit I didn’t have enough patience to watch EWTN’s treatment of the USCCB (US Catholic Bishops) rejection of the Ryan Budget,
          and I always wondered how EWTN handled the Bishop’s rejection . . . whether the political forces on EWTN went against the Church or against the Ryan Republican Budget proposals. I remain in the dark on this.

          I don’t consider EWTN to be an ‘official’ voice of the Church, no . . . especially in its political alignment with the Republican Party.

      • flatrocker @ 9:51 am – Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. I did not mean to exclude EWTN. I have watched Mother Angelica for many years.

    • Where do they fit? They’re old and are not being replaced with similar people. Joyce Meyer may not be that old, but she’s basically Oprah with a smirk, so she’ll have her thing to do for years (and she also fits in under Michael’s talk about therapeutic talk replacing anything resembling traditional teaching).

      As for the whole “Christian TV” thing — it’s morphing. Expect linear 24/7 TV to exist in some extent, but clips and sermons from big-name pastors and things with the word “REVIVAL” will be the new thing. It’s safe to say you can watch more Christian TV on YouTube (from the good guys like Charles Stanley or the awful like Bill Johnson) than on your TV now. The new Christian TV stars are online, for better or for worse.

      • cermak_rd says:

        Is the lady with the Greek still on? She wears clerical black and a color (and shoes that thud when she walks around). Melissa I think her name might have been?

        I ran across her show once or twice and it’s just fascinating. She takes a passage and uses all the Greek and follows tangents upon tangents and never really seems to wind up with a coherent understanding of the text, but it’s a fascinating process to watch.

        • cermak_rd says:

          That should have been collar, not color, clerical collar, and I don’t remember if it was Roman or English.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I ran across her show once or twice and it’s just fascinating. She takes a passage and uses all the Greek and follows tangents upon tangents and never really seems to wind up with a coherent understanding of the text, but it’s a fascinating process to watch.

          Wow. A female Gene Scott. Without the funny hats.

  9. So I talked about Pentecostalism and poor leadership…..but “Christian television” is another topic in the same vein….how on earth do these hucksters get to be the ones that represent?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      A large audience of isolated people, especially the elderly, in addition an audience of the mental ill [where restlessness and sleeplessness are pandemic- why so many of these shows appear at 3AM]. They can be liberated of their money.

      Boring people like those who read these kinds of BLOGs would not make a profitable audience.

  10. If in all this change(collapse) if one thing happens- if people even get a whiff of the prosperity gospel from anywhere- and they realize it is BS….if that one thing could come of all this…..hallelujah.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Too late. Prosperity Gospel has already metastasized all over the Third World which can least afford it.

      • That Other Jean says:

        And they will, with luck, figure that out before it does them great harm.

        • I imagine it has already done many of them great harm, and I wonder where God was in all it when their luck was going bad.

  11. “3. A small portion of evangelicalism will continue down the path of theological re-construction and recovery. Whether they be post-evangelicals working for a reinvigoration of evangelicalism along the lines of historic “Mere Christianity,” or theologically assertive young reformed pastors looking toward a second reformation, a small, but active and vocal portion of evangelicalism will work hard to rescue the evangelical movement from its demise by way of theological renewal.”

    This is where I’m at. I have picked my battlefield and/or vineyard (both metaphors apply) and expect to fight and/or labor here until God takes me out. It’s a lonely place to be, especially in a church and association which tolerates changes but very slowly–and not always with great enthusiasm. The same is true for being Reformed in the midst of mostly Free Grace folks. It is very difficult to change the established cognitive, behavioral and affective norms (e.g., Dispensationalism = gospel, “sinner’s prayer” = “once saved always saved,” hyper-political involvement, “deeds not creeds” and “more ‘relevant messages’ and less doctrine, please” simplistic stuff, …)

    Still, it’s worth it to me. I was saved in this environment (or so I still believe, albeit now with a better understanding) and it only seems right to remain here and work to promote good change. And I very much love my church.

    Oh, and make that “theologically assertive OLD reformed pastor”; at 64 I would not consider myself “young.” Still, God willing I have a few good years left to agitate.

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

      I have had a particular conversation with my wife so many times that I tremble to reproduce it here. She grew up Catholic but says “she wasn’t a Christian”. She was converted to Pentecostalism in 1978 by a Puerto Rican evangelist who was basically Oral Roberts in a guayabera, but who thankfully remained particularly free of grandstanding and scandal. At any rate, one of the first questions she asks me when we discuss any historical figure is “was he/she a Christian?” I know what she means by this. In her mind, second-wave Pentecostalism was what Paul and Barnabas were preaching on Cyprus in 55AD, and everyone in Church History who Matters, from Augustine down through Gregory Palamas to Friedrich Schleiermacher “Gave Their Lives To Jesus and Was Born Again”.

      When I try to explain to her that that model doesn’t fit Christians very well prior to the Cane Ridge meetings (1802?). Previously, Christians were born and baptized into a communion and remained there their whole lives. This was especially true prior to the Non-Conformist acts in the UK in the 18th Century (?). If they were “born again”, it usually meant that they were a particularly good or pious example of their communion. If not, they were just part of the ur-Christian Blodgettry that existed at that time.

      What I also try to explain is that what occurred in Protestantism on the American frontier at the cusp of the 19th Century was a “democraticization” and “Enlightenmentization” of Christianity as significant as its “imperialization” and “Hellenization” under Constantine. The difference is that in the 4th Century you were dealing with a mostly intact Church, so that the developments were digested universally [the whole Church as organ of interpretation], whereas in the 19th Century the innovations were restricted to American Protestantism. As the Enlightenment project and its democratic subproject extended their reach, Americanized Protestantism found itself uniquely poised to take advantage of this.

      The Hispanic Pentecostals are an example of this. They are more American than most Americans. They come from profoundly classist societies with little social mobility, and rejoice in the opportunities afforded them in the US. They lionize education, democracy, and entrepreneurship, and see Protestantism in general and Pentecostalism in particular, as “new” and “with it” as opposed to the stodgy old hierarchical Catholicism they left behind in South America. Add to that the fact that the Irish and the Poles, who have been accustomed to running the RC Church for their own benefit for decades, don’t care much for the newcomers.

      Evangelicalism is fading because the Enlightenment/Democratic experiment from which it was born is showing fissures and reaching the limits of its carrying capacity. It tried, between the late 70s and the election of Obama, to usurp the American civil religion from the Ecumenicals, but failed spectacularly. It is as yet uncertain what will replace Enlightenment/Democracy. Corporate Oligarchy or Traditional Nationalism on the Putinista model are two candidates.

      • “Add to that the fact that the Irish and the Poles, who have been accustomed to running the RC Church for their own benefit for decades, don’t care much for the newcomers.”

        Oh, my…I think you may be depending on anachronistic stereotypes that never had much credibility, and have even less now than they did then.

      • “Evangelicalism is fading because the Enlightenment/Democratic experiment from which it was born is showing fissures and reaching the limits of its carrying capacity.”

        When you say Evangelicalism, are you including Pentecostalism?
        When you say that Evangelicalism is fading because of fissures, etc., in the Enlightenment/Democratic experiment, do you think that Christianity in general in this country (I presume you are speaking mostly about the US in this case) is not also being undermined by the same fissures, etc.? Has there been robust growth in the Orthodox churches in the US? And if not for the influx of immigrants from traditionally Roman Catholic countries, new Americans not yet disaffected from Christianity by disillusioning experience with the fraying Enlightenment/Democratic experiment, an experiment which you acknowledge that they thoroughly believe in, wouldn’t the American RCC be in significant numerical decline since the 70’s, rather than holding in a steady state?

        Who do you imagine the advantage will devolve to by the stalling of the experiment? Traditional Christianity? The Orthodox Church? It’s hard for me to believe that you imagine that.

      • The US is becoming unchurched. That’s the current trend.

        If that trend continues, eventually most Americans will no longer identify themselves as Christian. We can leave aside the question of what constitutes a true Christian, or if the nation could ever legitimately have been called a Christian nation, because the answer to those questions will no longer be germane. Christians by any measure will be a minority among a national aggregate no longer Christian, and most likely inoculated by cultural experience and memory against the blandishments that formerly swept their ancestors into the Church, and kept them there.

        This is the future of the Church in the US and a few other places, and the present of the Church in western Europe. If trends change, all bets are off and nobody here has any idea what will replace the current landscape. There is nothing in any of this for the churches to be sanguine about. Our hope must be beyond optimism, even if it’s only optimism for only our own branches of the Church, which we fondly believe have special qualities to recommend them to future; if our hope is not beyond even this kind of optimism, then it’s nowhere.

      • Any church that wants to secure for itself just the possibility of thriving in the future in the US will have to relax the ancient strictures surrounding the issue of sexuality: divorce, premarital sexuality, same-sex and inter-sex (is that the correct current term?) relationships/marriages, etc. Unwillingness to do so will relegate churches to minority status, with dwindling memberships; willingness to do so will not necessarily guarantee thriving, especially among churches that offer no vision of what can be found among them that can’t just as readily and easily found outside.

        Otherwise, the Evangelical collapse, if and when it comes, will just join itself to the gradually increasing down slide that has been the mainlines for years, all of it eventually to be joined by the RCC, when the steady state that has existed there since the 70’s starts to collapse in on itself.

        • flatrocker says:

          In other words, Sola Cultura is the only sola worth saving. But oh can she be such a mercurial mistress.

          • “Ah, love, let us be true
            To one another!…”

            Her affections are inconstant, but no more so than our own certainties.

          • flatrocker says:

            So in the words of that great philosopher of human affection, Johnny Lee…..
            “Looking for love in all the wrong places, looking for love in too many faces”

            As I go wistfully whistling into the wind.

  12. Interesting observations, Asinus. I am Reformed, not Pentecostal, but one of those Hispanics who came here and found this country a gold mine of opportunities–and who became a “born again” Evangelical to boot. How much more “American” can a Cuban get?

    PS: I like t think of myself as a Jonathan Edwards in a guayabera.

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

      Classical premodernist American Calvinism is as Enlightenment as you can possibly get and still be recognisibly Christian, except for maybe the Restorationist movement. It shares the strengths and weaknesses of the Nominalist paradigm, and a lot depends on whether Nominalism or Realism is a more accurate description of reality. I’ve put my chit down on Realism and spun the wheel.

      As with the Enlightenment itself, the final object of analysis turns out to be a particle of zero mass and infinite veloity, which is to say, it is close to non-existence in any way except mathematically. In Calvinism, it turns out to be the aorist moment of regeneration [application of election] which is equally elusive, and could, self-deceptively, be merely highly refined common-grace, moral, works-righteousness until the final moment when you float out into Eternity and you realize too late that there was nothing there.

      No wonder it drove Cowper mad. Most Calvinists assume their election, which is the only way they can live with those awe-full doctrines. I know I wouldn’t allow one who assumed his own reprobation to carry a concealed handgun. 🙂

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        But as a tool that allows Christianity to be applied to those who – usually unknowingly – default to a modernist paradigm, I think calvinism has its uses. My dad is a presbyterian, and it is probably unsurprising that he is also an MS in physics. There are a lot of very intelligent people who have engineering type minds, who often lack formal training in liberal arts or rhetoric, to whom the rigor of calvinism as a system appeals. Overall, I think that is a good thing. Personal firearms laws aside :mrgreen:

      • Are you referring to William Cowper, the 18th century poet and hymnodist? Not sure what Calvinism had with his periodic bouts of madness. From what I read about him they were brought on by stress or death of a dear one. And yes, he feared going to hell but it seems as though hanging around John Newton–a Calvinist–was therapeutic for the poor fellow.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          It doesn’t really matter if Calvinism comforted him or drove him mad. To extrapolate his experience to the population group is not justifiable.

  13. Please excuse me here, but won’t the evangelical collapse be caused by the Rapture(TM)? There won’t be any evangelicals around anymore.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      Sure there will! All the evangelicals who committed mortal sins and failed to repent of them in time, or whose theology was just a little off, get to stay down here with the 144,000.

  14. “In Calvinism, it turns out to be the aorist moment of regeneration [application of election] which is equally elusive, and could, self-deceptively, be merely highly refined common-grace, moral, works-righteousness until the final moment when you float out into Eternity and you realize too late that there was nothing there.”

    Oh goodness, yes. There are two possible responses to Calvinism’s brand of assurance. One is to find it supremely assuring. The other is to be endlessly miserable and ruthlessly self-examining.

    Sadly, I’m in the second category.

    • Not surprisingly, I’m in the first category. It is supremely assuring to me. To know that through no effort or merit of my own God has chosen to shed his sovereign grace on me is most assuredly assuring.

      For the life of me I do not understand why this monergistic doctrine, which C.H. Spurgeon rightly referred to as “a beautiful doctrine,” would make anyone miserable. What would make me miserable is to think that there was anything synergistic about my salvation, for how can a person who is a sinner by nature contribute anything, one iota, even, to being justified before a holy God?

      Neither do I see a need to be constantly or ruthlessly self-examining. If we are saved by grace through faith resulting in good works, then the evidence of our election is that we believe in Christ and that we bear good fruit for Him.

      With all due respect, I don’t see any alternative than to allow God to do all of the work of redemption and us recipients of His grace to accept it in faith and gratitude.

  15. “Yet there can be little doubt that within our western culture there is very little evidence of an evangelicalism that can diagnose and repair itself.”

    From what I’ve seen in my own experience, individual evangelical churches that start closely examining and questioning themselves and making attempts at reform tend to either split or come apart entirely. It seems like we evangelicals can make cosmetic alterations (worship music style, incorporating electronic media, etc.) more easily and quickly than more traditional mainliners. But when it comes to making essential adjustments in the way we see and think about things (like the church, scriptural interpretation, the world around us), we have a real hard time going there. Of course, changes of that sort have and continue to occurr within evangelicalism, but, as far as I can see, it’s mostly an unconscious process. What we can’t seem to do is examine ourselves critically in the present tense. And those few churches that do start looking at themselves through a critical lens tend to come apart from the strain and shock — and from the inevitable conflict between those who want to look even deeper and those who want to change the subject, continue with business as usual, and stick their heads back in the sand.

  16. The sociologist Peter Berger insists that, since modern pluralism makes it extremely difficult to accept as taken–for-granted the doctrines and traditions of any given religious tradition, we who continue to identify with religious traditions have two choices: We may try to construct a ghetto, whether physical or cultural or a combination of both, that filters out as much cognitive dissonance as possible, so that we may continue to occupy or, more likely in our contemporary situation, re-occupy a traditionalist position, usually at the cost of having to live in bad faith by denying the relativizing perspectives that we have been exposed to as moderns; or, we may engage in an act of bricolage, patchwork religion, in which we assess the components of our traditions, determine where we assent or dissent, and piece together a form of faith for ourselves that we can live with, however aware we may the contingency and uncertainties, and even the unlikelihood, of our determinations.

    It seem to me that American Evangelicalism has been trying to do the former of these for some time. But cognitive dissonance is reaching critical mass, and the closer it gets to that point, the more evangelicals fall out of the ghetto and into the confusion of bricolage, where they are having to piece together a tenable faith in the midst of the same uncertainty that everybody else lives with, or go without faith at all.

    Indeed, it seems to me that bricolage, not tent-making, is the most widespread vocation of the post-evangelical wilderness.

    • Dana Ames says:

      True this. I agree with your observations, Robert.

      (Back from son’s wedding in NC, had a lovely time. Son says he is an atheist, but I think this will only be temporary, because he has a Chest… )

      Dana

  17. I keep having the thought that Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism have absorbed some ideas from Seventh Day Adventism. Both their “literal” reading of Genesis and many but not all parts of their eschatology, as I understand, it. It kind of blows my mind to think that both the Southern Baptists and the LCMS accept “flood geology”, which was made up to give “scientific” validation to a vision the SDA prophetess had. Strange bedfellows all around.

    Going even more afield, I have been wondering if the doctrine of “the eternal subordination of the Son” that the SBC advocates might not lead, 50 years hence, to the distinction the Jehovah’s Witnesses make between the Father and the Son – the JW church has a dualistic rather than trinitarian belief, where the Son is inferior in power to the Father.

    Is the future of Evangelicalism a mixture of Baptist, SDA, and maybe even JW ideas, with a bit of prosperity gospel thrown in?

  18. david brainerd says:

    They’ll finally realize that Paul’s doctrine died out quickly only to be revived by the heretic Marcion. And died again, only to be revised centuries later by Augustine. And died again only to be revived by Luther. Maybe its time to stop reviving the lie and believe the gospel that Jesus preached, not the one that a mysterious talking light preached to a persecuting douche-bag.