October 22, 2017

Another Look: The Coming Evangelical Collapse (3)

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

Note from CM: Here is the last of the three “Evangelical Collapse” pieces that Michael Spencer wrote five years ago. I think five years provides a good mile marker at which to look at what he said then, how it compares to the landscape today, and what we might see ahead. We’ll stick to discussing U.S. evangelicalism in one form or another throughout this week. If you haven’t been following along, we started last Monday, and I’d encourage you to peruse those posts and comment threads so you’ll know what ground we’ve already covered.

• • •

church lightning3. Is all of this a bad thing?

I’ve received many notes and emails over this series of posts, and I’m glad that it has been provocative and discussion-producing.

Is the coming evangelical collapse entirely a bad thing? Or is there good that will come from this season of the evangelical story?

One of the most encouraging developments in recent evangelicalism is the conviction that something is very wrong. One voice that has been warning American evangelicals of serious problems is theologian Michael Horton. For more than 20 years, Horton has been warning that evangelicals have become something almost unrecognizable in the flow of Christian history. From the prophetic Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism to the incredible In the Face of God to the most recent Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Horton has been saying that evangelicals are on the verge of theological/ecclesiastical disaster.

Horton’s diagnosis is not, however, the same diagnosis as we saw in the heyday of the culture war, i.e. that evangelicals must rise up and take political and cultural influence if America is to survive and guarantee freedom and blessing. Horton’s warning has been the abandonment of the most basic calling of the church: the preservation and communication of the essentials of the Gospel in the church itself.

The coming evangelical collapse will be, in my view, exactly what Horton has been warning us about for two decades. In that sense, there is something fundamentally healthy about accepting that, if the disease cannot be cured, then the symptoms need to run their course and we need to get to the next chapter. Evangelicalism doesn’t need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral.

But not all; not by any means. In other words, the question is not so much what will be lost, but what is the condition of what remains?

As I’ve said in the previous post in this series, what will be left will be 1) an evangelicalism greatly chastened in numbers, influence and resources, 2) a remaining majority of Charismatic-Pentecostal Christians faced with the opportunity to reform or become unrecognizable, 3) an invigorated minority of evangelicals committed to theology and church renewal, 4) a marginalized emerging and mainline community and 5) an evangelicalized segment of the other Christian communions.

Is it a good thing that denominations are going to become largely irrelevant? Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshal resources, training and vision to the mission field and into the planting and equipping of churches?

Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart, leaving evangelicalism with a more committed, serious core of followers? Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership?

Is it a good thing that the emerging church will fade into the irrelevance of the mainlines? If this leaves innovative, missionally minded, historically and confessionally orthodox churches to “emerge” in the place of the traditional church, yes. Yes, if it fundamentally changes the conversation from the maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate churches.

Is it a good thing that Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority of evangelicals? Yes, if reformation can reach those churches and produce the kind of unity we see in Wesley and Lloyd-Jones; a unity where the cleavage between doctrine and spiritual gifts isn’t assumed.

The ascendency of Charismatic-Pentecostal influenced worship around the world can be a major positive for the evangelical movement if that development is joined with the calling, training and mentoring of leaders. If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing. (I recognize, btw, that all is not well overseas, but I do not believe that makes the help of Christians in other cultures a moot point.)

Will the evangelicalizing of Catholic and Orthodox communions be a good development? One can hope for greater unity and appreciation, but the history of these developments seems to be much more about a renewed vigor to “evangelize” Protestantism in the name of unity. For those communions, it’s a good development, but probably not for evangelicals themselves.

Will the coming evangelical collapse get evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about its loss of substance and power? I tend to believe that even with large declines in numbers and an evidence “earthquake” of evangelical loyalty, the purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in full form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church’s problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time. (I rejoice in those megachurches that fulfill their role as places of influence and resource for other ministries without insisting on imitation.)

Will the coming evangelical collapse shake loose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? We can all pray and hope that this will be so, but evidence from other similar periods is not encouraging. Coming to terms with the economic implications of the Gospel has proven particularly difficult for evangelicals. That’s not to say that American Christians aren’t generous….they are. It is to say that American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success American style. Perhaps the time is coming that this entanglement will be challenged, especially in the lives of younger Christians.

lightning umbrellaBut it is impossible to not be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, “Christianity loves a crumbling empire.” Christianity has flourished when it should have been exterminated. It has conquered when it was counted as defeated. Evangelicalism’s heyday is not the entirety of God’s plan.

I think we can rejoice that in the ruins of the evangelical collapse new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. New kinds of church structure, new uses of gifts, new ways to develop leaders and do the mission- all these will appear as the evangelical collapse occurs.

I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, paid staff and numbers its drugs for half a century.

I expect to see a substantial abandonment of the seminary system. How can a denomination ask its clergy to go into huge debt to be equipped for ordination or ministry? We all know that there are many options for education from much smaller schools to church based seminaries to internet schools to mentoring and apprenticing arrangements. We must do better in this area, and I think we will.

In fact, I hope that many IM readers will be part of the movement to create 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. There are encouraging signs, but evangelical culture has the ability to disproportionately judge the significance of movements within it.

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?

Comments

  1. Michael passed before the real aims of the left became clear to many of us, and I wish we had his insights there. He was a lot more hopeful the than I am now. Those home church groups he had such hope for — they’ll be busted up by cops hiding behind zoning and parking laws. The denominations will become the equivalent of state churches, Jesus will be the icon of tolerance, “equality,” and the orthodoxy of cultural Marxism. The real believers will be forced underground if not executed outright. What’s ironic is the persecution will be conducted by people calling themselves Christians. Possibly even some of those who join us here.

    • I don’t know much about Michael Spencer, but the little I do know makes me think that he wasn’t given to such paranoid, alarmist musings, and in fact felt they were part of the culture war energy feeding into the Evangelical collapse he foresaw. Nor do I think he would have felt it appropriate or Christian to support an atmosphere of fear and reaction even if he saw the same things you do.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Ditto

      • Moreover, if you suspect that some of us here might in the future join the secret police in persecuting you, I for one find in some of your comments the thoughts of a man not entirely unlikely to join some far right, Christian survivalist/militia group out in the woods of Iowa or Washington state (no offense meant to Iowans or Washingtonians).

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Robert, when we join the Judeo-Stazi, will you be my partner? Our conversations could really help pass those long hours on stake-out, over stale donuts and bad coffee; help us to stay awake while we try to nab the attendees of those so-called House Churches.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Never mind John Galt, “WHO IS JOHN TODD?”

          Actually, it’s Idaho & Montana, not Iowa & Washington. According to the FBI, Idaho & Montana are the places to go when you just want to get away from everyone else. Lotsa hermits up there; only thing weird about Unabomber was the bombs.

          • cermak_rd says:

            Iowa is amazingly open and tolerant on its east side. The first time I spent more time there than just passing through I was amazed to see folks walking around in saffron robes and no one acting surprised. Turns out there’s a big TM temple and college in Fairfield, Iowa. Its west side is just plain weird. I blame the Nebraskans.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          Indiana. It’s the woods of Indiana, Adam.

    • I remember hearing this self-same tune of “The Left is Gonna Persecute Us!” when I first became a believer over 20 years ago. Of course, just because it hasn’t happened up to this point doesn’t mean it *won’t* ever happen. But evangelicals would do well to remember that the powers of this world are indeed the powers of this world, and NONE of them place the good of the Church first. Regimes of the Right can be just as persecutorial as regimes of the Left – remember the [insert violation of Godwin’s Law here].

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Or there is the much more likely possibility – next to nobody bothers to persecute the church in the United States as the church is simply beneath relevance.

        Not that this will stop someone who has their car towed after leaving it parked without a permit from crying “PERSECUTION!” Hey, they were parked there in order to Pray… and get a bagel, steamed, with cream cheese. “PERSECUTION!”.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “Or there is the much more likely possibility – next to nobody bothers to persecute the church in the United States as the church is simply beneath relevance.”

          Not true: I’ll bet Clark routinely suffers the persecution of having store clerks wish him Happy Holidays!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And 20 years before that (before the Second Russian Revolution), it wasn’t just “the Left”. It was “The COMMUNISTS, The COMMUNISTS, The COMMUNISTS!!!!!” In the words of the John Birch Society, “The World COMMUNIST Conspiracy”.

        Slacktivist claimed several times that Tim LaHaye was involved with the Birchers at some point in his past, and this influenced Left Behind. And I remember a “Billy James Hargis” radio preacher in the Seventies who always started his show with “For Christ and AGAINST COMMUNISM!” Just how much Cold War crossover was there between Born-Again Bible-Believing Evangelicals and the Birchers?

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          To this day I am pretty much guaranteed a knee-jerk response when I point out that the very early Christians were communists.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Of course; but it is a bit of a cheat, after the rise of Marxism the term “communist” is tainted, it is culturally equivalent to Soviet. History changes how terms are used and what they mean.

        • Communists and Secular Humanists. Double whammy when they were both.

    • “Possibly even some of those who join us here.”

      Every day, I get up at 6am, and sharpen my ax. Every single day.

      Every day, my husband says, “Why are you doing this? It advances none of your aims.”

      And I say, “Dear, I’m a liberal. It’s just what we do.”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Excellent. I wish I had had the ingenuity to post this. …

        Only I don’t think I own an axe [although there is an ancient and scary out-building behind my house, it was a chicken coop circa ~1900, there might be one in there]. I do own a hatchet – but not as intimidating as an axe. Probably been more than a decade since I sharpened it – I’m gonna get right on that, there is an Evangelical Collapse to get ready for!!!

        • I have 2 axes, a double blade axe and a broad axe. I’m also a conservative, and a charismatic Anglican in-training. Where does that put me?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Apparently we are doomed to be in an axe fight; clearly you will have the advantage. So now I do need to go get a better axe.

            Personally I’d rather just sit down, have a beer, watch a hockey game, and argue like grumpy old men.

            But one must accept one’s fate.

          • I’m developing the sneaking suspicion that we liberals may be under-prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse.

      • Liberals got axes? Who knew?

        Danielle, just remember: the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

      It might sound paranoid, but I strongly suspect Friend Clark is right.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Absolutely! We who are the Left are skulking in the corner rubbing our hands together in rapidly expectant glee! That’s what we do.

        • Don’t forget the laugh, Adam. You need to practice the laugh.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            At least 15 minutes every morning and every evening. But should I go more suppressed crazed chuckle or full-on maniacal cackle? Tough choices.

          • “A lot of guys ignore the laugh, and that’s about *standards*.” – Dr. Horrible

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I have been brushing up on The Little Red Book while scoping out sites for re-education camps.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            You do know that there is an Evangelical “The Little Red Book”? Yep, seriously. An Evangelical remake of the the chairman’s book. Because that is in good taste. It even has its own website.

            I was completely gob-smack the first time I saw it. Like, “Wow! What a horrible terrible hideous idea – Have you handed one of these to a Chinese person? Can I watch when you do? Do you think this is `ironic` in a clever kind of way? It isn’t.”. Fortunately after the briefest moment I seized my composure and walked away.

            But them I am a Leftist – which apparently is somehow synonymous with “Cultural Marxist” [*1] – so what do I know.

            [*1] a term neither I nor the previous commentator can attach any substantive meaning to.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            You do know that there is an Evangelical “The Little Red Book”? Yep, seriously. An Evangelical remake of the the chairman’s book. Because that is in good taste. It even has its own website.

            “Just like Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          • cermak_rd says:

            Are you going for sunny and pastoral sites or darker, more urban environments? The scenery is so important for the camps to work right.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            The scenery is so important for the camps to work right.”

            New Jersey. That’s where KAOS put Maxwell Smart when they captured him. I figure anything good enough for KAOS is good enough for me.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Friend Clark” or “COMRADE Clark”?

        In Russian, “Tovarich” can mean both.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > they’ll be busted up by cops hiding behind zoning and parking laws

      That isn’t “The Left”, that is “The Law”. Everyone is under the same law; you cannot have public gatherings in a facility unfit to be a public accommodation.

      • cermak_rd says:

        I never realized as a member of the Left I had the powers of red tape and administration on my side! Now I truly am UNSTOPPABLE!

    • Also, Spenser’s thoughts about the coming collapse in this series all have to do with issues internal to Evangelicalism; nowhere do I see him pointing outward at the larger culture or society as the main problem contributing to that collapse. You may agree or disagree with his predictions, but you could at least read him correctly, and not try to project your purely political concerns onto him, concerns so foreign to his purpose in making these observations.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Do you know why zoning and parking laws exist? It is so that one homeowner cannot unduly inconvenience their neighbors. It is fine for someone to throw a party or a church meeting in their home and have 20 cars parked on the street every now and again. It is a little rude to do it every week. Where are the 20 neighbors who would have parked there near their home to park? Once in a while, they can adjust, every week, they’re gonna get steamed. In my area we are required to have a city sticker to park on my block. We get 1 free visitor pass per household and I believe can pay for 1 more guess pass.

      The same with zoning. Cities are democracies. The citizens vote. And the citizens voted for some areas to be for residential purposes and others to be for commercial or industrial purposes. The citizens can even vote on variances to the zoning laws for individual purposes.

      This isn’t some from of tyranny it’s how people at the city level live together..

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > This isn’t some from of tyranny it’s how people at the city level live together..

        THIS!

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Of all the sad comments I’ve read on IM, this is the saddest.

    • Oh, bs. Drop the faux persecution complex narrative.

  2. flatrocker says:

    It would be so refreshing (and somewhat intimidating) if we would drop the knee-jerk characterizations of the “left” and the “right.” How about we consider what most of us really desire – control. And that the state provides this control. Sometimes for the good – my streets are plowed and my trash is picked up on time. Sometimes for the bad – re: Ferguson, MO.

    Where the “left” wants control of what we eat and what we say, the “right” wants control of who we marry and what we smoke. So let’s be refreshing and call it for what it is – statism. And look at ourselves honestly and discuss our need to control each other across the full political spectrum. How much? How far? And what do we do with all those “bad apples” who don’t fit into our tidy political narrative? Maybe then we can have a more rational discussion on what are the real risks to Christianity.

    • APIB (Amen Preach It Brother)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      So you want to drop knee-jerk characterizations of “left” and “right” … and then you say:

      Where the “left” wants control of what we eat and what we say”
      the “right” wants control of who we marry and what we smoke

      These are Characterizations with a capitol-C.

      > So let’s be refreshing and call it for what it is – statism

      Of course it is Statism. No sane person wants to live without one, at least not in a world with ~6-8 Billion other people.

      > Maybe then we can have a more rational discussion on what are the real risks to Christianity.

      I thought the thrust of the post was the fall-out of the Evangelical Collapse; provided you accept there will be such a collapse. I do not believe Christianity is in any practical danger, it seems to be very much alive and wide-spread; but my definition of Christianity is rather wide [I include the RCC and the EO].

      • flatrocker says:

        > These are Characterizations with a capitol-C.

        +1 Well yes it is. That was the point of the comment.

        > Of course it is Statism. No sane person wants to live without one.

        -1 Tell that to the Yazidis, the Gazans and the mother of Michael Brown. Do not confuse “the State” with “Statism.” One is a governing body. The other is a belief.

        Adam, the point of my comment is about our driving need to control others. And this in some respects is at the heart of our collapse.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          I think you might find it very difficult to demonstrate that ISIL in any way embodies statism.

          • flatrocker says:

            But statism is what ISIL aspires for – and maybe in its purist form.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            So it isn’t statist, but this current iteration is sort of a Great Purge so that ISIL can then evolve into a statist organization?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          There are control freaks all over. One guy I used to know defined “Fascism” as “rule by Control Freaks” and called Communism “Fascism of the Left” (as opposed to classical “Fascism of the Right”).

          And there are a lot of Control Freaks in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity. (Can you say “Shepherding Group”? I knew you could.) Spiritual Abuse blogs such as Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board are full of accounts of control-freak Pastor/Dictators and their yes-men/enforcers.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Do not confuse “the State” with “Statism.” One is a governing body. The other is a belief.

          The contrary to Statism is Anarchism. So I don’t see how this hangs together. Are you saying that the cause of Evangelical decline is because of its acceptance of a Statist position? I’m not sure Christianity has been particularly anarchical for any significant period of history, historical communions [RCC, EO, …] are not anarchical.

          QUOTE: In political science, statism is the belief that the state should control either economic or social policy, or both, to some degree. – Wikipedia, and this seem short enough and on point a definition.

          > Tell that to the Yazidis, the Gazans and the mother of Michael Brown.

          I do not believe any of these groups or people are opposed to the existence of a state; they just might not like the one they have very much.

          > Adam, the point of my comment is about our driving need to control others.

          I don’t know that most people have a driving need to control others; most people I know are quite laisez-faire in their personal lives. This is the notion of Tolerance. The Evangelicals are a sharp discordant note of control-desire in an otherwise rather ambivalent public So perhaps this is where we disagree. I do not see any other group of even nearly equivalent numbers questing for an equivalent level of influence over people’s day-to-day choices.

          >And this in some respects is at the heart of our collapse.

          By “our” you mean Evangelicalism?

          Aside: I am not convinced Evangelicalism is in a state of collapse.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And we switch from Bircher terminology to Objectivist.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    I am skeptical that such a spectacular collapse is coming – many comments in previous threads. So that rather short-circuits the predictions relating to the ramifications of said collapse.

    A “collapse” involves a sudden-ish decline in membership and finances. I believe Evangelicalism has more staying power than that – it is too useful to the complete worldview of too many, it will continue to be financed even as its membership declines [not collapses] for the foreseeable future.

    Aside: as I’ve mentioned in previous threads I am skeptical that this decline is driven primarily by disaffiliation or dissatisfaction within Evangelicalism, but is carried on top of an overall decline in all forms of affiliation – that decline driven by demographic [aging baby boomers, low birth rate, immigration] and socioeconomic [mobility, inter-ethnic marriage rates, urbanization] realities.

    > Does anyone think all will proceed without interruption or surprise?

    I guess that list would include Me. It has been a long time since Evangelicalism surprised me; it is monumentally banal. I’m 42; I expect the Evangelical machine to still be running for the rest of my life – the numbers of those affiliated with it will decline, but so will the numbers affiliated with everyone else.

    Unless some Black Swan intervenes, but the nature of those is that they cannot be foreseen – except in hind-sight! 🙂

    • “I am skeptical that such a spectacular collapse is coming – many comments in previous threads. So that rather short-circuits the predictions relating to the ramifications of said collapse.”

      I, too, am skeptical on the collapse, and as I suggested before, I see it more as a “morphing” rather than collapse. But the history of Christianity has ALWAYS been about “morphing” whenever social/world changes occur. It has been about survival, doing whatever is necessary ever since its beginnings.

      The fact that today’s evangelicalism has developed at ALL is a reflection of the prosperity of the western world since the late 19th century till the present. The industrial revolution and the development of petrochemicals ushered in an era of increasing leisure time and less scraping by for survival, IN GENERAL, that is. And with the increasing time and the lessening of the pressure to just survive, the church began to grow. People had more time to devote to the current Sunday/Church paradigm and with more disposable income those new church organizations came up with grand plans to expand their influence, first on individuals, and then on society.

      You want to see the collapse of modern evangelicalism? Then get rid of the tax exemption for donations and begin taxing the churches themselves on their “profits”. A lot of the funds that are raised for future building funds would be taxed as income and would become a “use it or lose it” proposition.

      THAT would be a first step.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I see two plausible scenarios. One is, as you suggest, no spectacular collapse but rather a long-term decline. This is what happened to the mainlines. There is, however, a more lurid scenario in which the megachurch model comes to dominate Evangelicalism even more than it already does, then the megachurches collapse. This is plausible if the megachurch financial model turns out to be as unsustainable as it appears to be. That is, if they are so leveraged that even a modest reduction in contributions results in foreclosures. How likely is this? Heck if I know. It isn’t as if their books are open to inspection. But it seems reasonable to believe that the scenario is plausible. If the megachurches start to collapse, would the members turn to small Evangelical churches or would they decide to sleep in on Sundays?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > even a modest reduction in contributions results in foreclosures

        This seems unlikely –
        (A) foreclosing on a church, especially a politically radicalized church – as most megas are to some degree – would be an awesome PR mess.
        (B) foreclose on what? The bank will always be motivated to negotiate terms as these structures are generally worthless. Perhaps the land they sit on might have value… but only after the expense of clearing away the sprawling poorly constructed maze of structures and additions that was built on it. Trust me, no developer is eager to get their hands on 70s, 80s, 90s, and 000s vintage suburban construction.
        (B.1.) Most megas reside on cheap suburban property whose value is not on a strong upward trend.

        > If the megachurches start to collapse, would the members turn to small
        > Evangelical churches or would they decide to sleep in on Sundays?

        Does anyone believe they would migrate to smaller churches in significant numbers? I attended a mega for a decade. I can’t see it. There will be exceptions, but as a rule – no way. Of course a financial collapse for a mega would probably mean many people have already exited without returning for a long time – the mega system [at least as I witnessed it] has a significant amount of bloat and graft – they could easily downsize internal operations with no visible change to operations in order to conserve revenue. And there will be the harvesting of Baby Boomer trusts which will provide revenue for at least a decade, probably two. Leaving financial assets to the church is still a common enough practice.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Perhaps the land they sit on might have value… but only after the expense of clearing away the sprawling poorly constructed maze of structures and additions that was built on it. Trust me, no developer is eager to get their hands on 70s, 80s, 90s, and 000s vintage suburban construction.

          This is similar to the dilemma when a big-box store like WalMart pulls up stakes. You have this HUGE building sitting there abandoned for years to decades.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        There is, however, a more lurid scenario in which the megachurch model comes to dominate Evangelicalism even more than it already does, then the megachurches collapse.

        That sounds like the prediction made in Das Kapital by Marx the Systems Analyst (who was eclipsed by Marx the Apocalyptic Prophet). Basically, Marx’s analysis (from a Victorian-era knowledge base) was that corporations would continue to grow by gobbling up others until there were only a handful of mega-congolmerates; at which point, without any more prey to consume, they would all collapse in an crash of Apocalyptic proportions. (This is the point where Marx the Systems Analyst gives way to Marx the Apocalyptic Prophet of Revolution.)

  4. As one who is dissatisfied and disaffiliated with evangelicalism, there is, of course, agreement with the vibe proffered by Michael Spencer. So here is my opinion about the dangers and potential. And, first off, I think this very community of Internet Monk could be a catalyst in “new” approaches.
    The hold of Christianity on our imagination is immense, and in a sense, is rightly so. This is true for even those who think they disdain it and are closed. While maturing and castigating the unfettered subjectivism of modernity, one realizes that Christianity has always had a completely different understanding of our social order- yes open to transcendence, but also open to human flourishing. This is a very nostalgic sense we all carry with us. The negative side of nostalgia is that Protestantism becomes moralistic and Catholicism sees this social order where the church is an instance of the kingdom arrived. With both you lose sight of the future and the transformative potential of Christianity. The nostalgia of the ancient-future position takes over. What I’m grasping at is a position that does not build on a foundation that the future will be a progressively less religious one. One that does not take the approach that evangelicalism took of being a mile wide and an inch deep. But a very catholic(small c) approach nevertheless. I think we need a big ecumenical push, but with new language. I have this feeling that there will be an evangelical collapse. I don’t, however, think the future is less religious- just the opposite. I have this feeling I can’t shake that there is more coming from Christianity, and it will be different and refreshing. Sort of Anglican/Catholic, Reformed, with Shinto tendencies.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Catholicism sees this social order where the church is an instance
      > of the kingdom arrived.

      Yes, this exactly. But I believe the Catholic church is exactly correct in this position.

      > With both you lose sight of the future and the transformative potential
      > of Christianity.

      I do not see why. I believe in the trans-formative power of Christianity precisely becomes it is an established kingdom, one which cannot be disestablished.

      > I have this feeling I can’t shake that there is more coming from Christianity,
      > and it will be different and refreshing

      I hope so, my optimism is mixed with pessimism – in the shorter term [a generation]. Sometimes the new requires shedding the old skin, which is why a belief in an Evangelical Collapse appeals to me – it is something I believe very much needs to be swept into the dustbin, it is something that must be gotten out of the way before anything new can come to flower. But – I don’t see it in the numbers. I want to believe it will happen or is happening – I do not see any solid evidence that this is so. Its depowering will take more than a generation; a time frame that does not meet my definition of “collapse”, especially in light that – in my view – what we now call Evangelicalsm is **at most** only three generations old. It may retain notable power for again as long as it has already lived.

  5. I have seen things in recent years that are eye opening to me. I went to outreaches in the inner city in which I do live today. The thing that surprises me is the use of the word evangelism. If by that word it is meant that you do a few good giveaways and announce the gospel and get people to say a prayer or get prayed for and then tell of your successful testimonies then there you go. The first time I met Raymond the barber he blew me off. I soon learned the reasons why. How many times Raymond had seen the likes of me coming to his city going to transform the world then leave when the grand experiment is over. I remember when churches put together a city wide clean up and then invaded the city with pick ups with well meaning people going to make a difference. I remember my own pastor saying they did a victory lap around the blocks they were working on. I remember 30 days later when it was worse than what it was. Billy Graham himself said they had so many say the prayer come forward and dedicate their lives and then go home and their lives never changed. I do sense the sadness in this statement. It makes me sad too. I was one who has fallen through the cracks of a life not changing for so many long years. Raymond has seen them come and go to many times as have most who live here. The giveaways are good. God wants the poor taken care of. He wants the ones He loves feed. Something I have learned feeding the stray cats on the mountain near by. I realize we need truth. The men of the late 1800’s who generated so much wealth but also change the landscape of the world were men of extreme talent. Yes they might have been greedy and had all the pitfalls of such extreme wealth but they were being used by God. If churches are going to move into something better than some things need to be burned up. We need to proclaim truth over our people. We need men who are extremely gifted in business to reenergize our country. We need them to use their gifts for the better of all people. Not forcing them to fund more giveaways but to fund the opportunities for those who have no work to have work. We need to be praying for all gifts to be coming into the Kingdom out of the love we have been given then give it away. I don’t have all the answers but I know one who does and I have this faith that it will be okay. When we as a society recognize how important and indispensable each one of us are. This is from top to bottom. When we realize that love and the gifts of God are needed in all these spectrums. The rich man cannot have what he has if not for the low man on the totem pole. It’s all here and ready to bloom and bear fruit. Are we going to pronounce the truth. Do we have the guts to call things like bigotry the demon that it is. When we have so many opportunities. Will there always be those who are lost and do not follow God. How sad I was for the owner of the basketball team being so old and trying to fill himself with things that never can. Then to be still lost in the things he was saying. I wonder sometimes if we have any compassion at all as a society. Then to further fuel the fire of such demons and then all face it and not the one who is Jealous for us. How sad I was to go to Raymond’s church and meet the survivors of Birmingham and the information about slavery here and then not hear it pronounced for the demon it was and how we so much need to be healed by the one who can heal us. If things need to change it will be for the better and it will be built on the foundation laid by others it just never seems to be fast enough for me.

  6. The change from five years ago to today shows some of the changes that Michael Spencer was concerned about. Five years ago, the first comment would not have been a political comment speaking the fears of today’s far right. Five years ago, people saying that they leaned liberal would not have had to excuse themselves to their fellow Evangelicals.

    What has happened in the last five years is that a significant portion of Evangelicalism, and Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy has adopted very conservative political stances to a level that would not have been held by theologically conservative Christians when the Moral Majority was first founded. That, by itself, would not have necessarily been terrible, except that that segment also characterizes everyone who does not agree with their particular political (and economic) philosophy as being inimical to the Kingdom of God, as deluded Christians, at best, and non-Christians, at worst.

    The biggest danger to theologically conservative Christianity is when the unbreakable alliance is formed with a particular political and economic system. Given that politically conservative Christians have made it clear that they intend to impose Christian cultural rules, this is dangerous to Christianity in the long run.

    As an ethnic Christian belonging to an ethnic set of Churches, I fear that possible future.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Five years ago, people saying that they leaned liberal would not have had
      > to excuse themselves to their fellow Evangelical

      Sorry, but what planet is this? 2014 – 5 = 2009. Apology was already an established standing demand at that point.

      > That segment also characterizes everyone who does not agree with their particular
      > political (and economic) philosophy as being inimical… non-Christians, at worst.

      This has been the case for a decade. But I will give you that the message has been honed, the rhetoric optimized.

      > The biggest danger to theologically conservative Christianity is when the unbreakable alliance
      > is formed with a particular political and economic system

      That alliance is already fused in place, at least for something like ~6 – 15% of the population But what does one do now? Short of getting into a pointless and unpleasant shouting match. Of course the problem is not limited to fellow Christians – how does a society respond to a radicalized sect? In such a way as not to raise the temperature even further.

      > I fear that possible future.

      That future is here.

    • Irony that the sellout to unregulated capitalism is also a move toward social Darwinism, but they won’t recognize that.

  7. Christiane says:

    I think the dangers to the Church will come from hypocrisy.
    An example:
    the FAR-right wing has a fringe that espouses verbally ‘Christian’, but advocates against the poor; this fringe aligns with those who are ‘against abortion’ but it does not promote spending to improve the conditions to bring new life into the world . . . there is too sharp a contrast between the lack of ‘good will’ among these extremists and their claim to being ‘good Christians’ so I strongly believe that the far-right has usurped the claim to be ‘Christ’s political party’ in order to get votes and power, with an intent to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the rest of our population, particularly the ones who are defenseless among us.

    Michael Spencer was not an advocate of hypocrisy, no. That is why so many people from different ‘denominations’ listened and respected him. He saw through it, and he called it as he saw it.
    And he was articulate . . . so articulate that his words resonated with ALL of us in that place that is at the core of our shared faith in Christ. That was his unique gift. And he is missed. We won’t see his like again soon.

    And for what it’s worth, I would say that it’s the ‘far-right’ fringe that stirs the pot over ‘be afraid, be afraid’ and helps build the paranoia. And it’s the left extremists who are right in there with them. And we know it. Michael knew. And had the courage to speak up.

    There is a video that reminded me of Michael’s honesty and how he was able to get our collective attention when he confronted our collective hypocrisy, and we listened,
    this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zabb3fxGTPk

    • . . . there is too sharp a contrast between the lack of ‘good will’ among these extremists and their claim to being ‘good Christians’ so I strongly believe that the far-right has usurped the claim to be ‘Christ’s political party’ in order to get votes and power, with an intent to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the rest of our population, particularly the ones who are defenseless among us.

      Christiane, I bought a book once because of the title: They Forged the Signature of God. It was a novel about the Trujillo and Balaguer dictatorships in the Dominican Republic, which did interest me, but the title is what sold it.

      I think of that title from time to time, usually in regard to something like this.

  8. The Church should be present in the public square, and it should be open to all in the public square. House churches, if embraced as the regular model of the Church, would ultimately reinforce the kind of ghetto mentality that has been developing in many evangelical circles for far too long. The house church model represents a retreat from engagement with the world. The prospect does not seem like a happy one to me, nor do I believe it is tenable. In our cultural setting, it would be a step backwards, into a past that no longer exists, though it may represent a beginning in other parts of the world.

    • Christiane says:

      the Upper Room was a ‘house Church’ before Pentecost, if you think about it.

      The whole fundamentalist-evangelical world seems to seek exclusivity, and I think it is an example of fearfulness on their part to engage more openly with the rest of the Body of Christ. I am sad for their fear, but they do what they can to cope and are certainly uncomfortable being ‘with’ those not of their kind, unless it is in a capacity where they are doing something called ‘speaking truth in love’, which seems cryptic in how that term is acted out ‘in the marketplace’ . . .

      it seems to me that fearfulness of that kind and being disrespectful to other’s beliefs . . . these behaviors are not so separated from the way of the world. . . and in some cases, it comes off as arrogant and judgmental, both of which do not represent ‘the mission’ of Christ in this world, nor His Commission to the men whose minds He formed according to His own, and then sent forth into the world after the coming of Pentecost.

      I don’t understand the thinking of fundamentalist Christians in their practice of what they call ‘truth in love’. It doesn’t at all fit what I know of Our Lord and His teachings.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The Church should be present in the public square

      I agree, but that is not without its difficulties. I believe it is *impossible* to be in the public square AND to be apolitical. Some alignment of political priorities and communions is inevitable.

      > The house church model represents a retreat from engagement with the world.

      Younger me thought they seemed like an answer, a possible solution; but I did wonder about their long term feasibility minus any infrastructure to perpetuate them. Or any way to deal with conflicts – and it did not take long in the church to realize conflict was inevitable.

      But older me thinks “Worst idea ever!”.

      The house church movement is an anti-solution.

  9. Dana Ames says:

    “Stanley Hauerwas has famously noted that whenever Christians agree to take charge of the outcome of history, they have agreed to do violence. He therefore labels violence as ‘idolatry,’ an attempt not to obey God’s commandments, but to assume the place of God.”

    Fr Stephen Freeman, 21 June 2014, http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/06/21/we-will-not-make-the-world-a-better-place/

    Dana

    • And yet, Dana, your own Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the ascent of Constantine into his role as Emperor, and protector of the Church, does it not? To live in this time of the delayed Parousia means that we necessarily must make an accommodation with history, otherwise we become, or stay, a mere sect, and how can a sect be said to be catholic?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > To live in this time of the delayed Parousia means that we necessarily must
        > make an accommodation with history

        And the necessity to extend to our own ancestors and the ancestors of others some degree of the charity we are expected to extend to our neighbors. People made choices, likely from a menu of imperfect options, without the hind-sight history gifts us with, and with only the light they had.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        Poor ol’ soldier boy Constantine. He gets so much bad press, although it is his sons and grandsons who committed the state to violence on behalf of the Church.

        But he made a mark on the Church unlike any other in history, except Jesus and Paul. I poked around on a site recommended in Chappy Mike’s Bulletin Board, and found this interesting meditation on the Decree of Tolerance as the culmination of New Testament eschatology . By a Protestant, no less. As he put it, it is an anachronism to read our dissatisfaction with imperial Christianity into the New Testament.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Robert, Constantine is a saint. He surely lived a life that was a jumble of contradictions, as do at least most of us, if we are honest – especially looking back on him from where we are now in time. In EO, those who are revealed as saints are not graded on some standard of morality, but rather how their lives were conduits of the Holy Spirit, each in their different ways. Our saints are not perfect people; that gives me a lot of hope. Constantine lifted the suffering of many thousands. Mule has commented before on how there are a lot of “notorious” sinners in the Orthodox Church.

        Much more to the point of Orthodox spirituality, you might find this interesting. I think you will get it…
        http://www.oodegr.com/english/dogmatiki1/G1b.htm

        Dana

        • Thank you for the links, Dana. I will read the second this evening, a little later.

          As to the first, interestingly, the Ecumenical Associate Pastor (a very Lutheranly young Lutheran) at my home Episcopal Parish preached a sermon a few weeks ago in which he repeatedly made the point that the world will not get better, it will get worse, and as Christians we shouldn’t be surprised or demoralized by this (although I think many of the my affluent, middle-class fellow parishoners were indeed surprised, and somewhat chagrined, by his words). I found his sermon bracingly refreshing and honest, and Father Freeman’s post reminds me of it.

        • ” Acceptance of the Cross signifies identifying with all those who suffer, an undertaking of responsibility for all of the pain in Creation – and identifying thus, to the death. Only then does redemption come from evil, and not through morality and logic: only with self-sacrificing love.”

          I understand the thrust of this idea. But, Dana, I’m not capable of such an identification out of my own freedom. Such unbounded giving of the self, of one’s own freedom, sooner or later reaches the point of resenting what has been given, especially when it’s not used by those to whom it has been gifted in the way that one had hoped. Perhaps this is the reason for Dostoevsky’s famous peevishness: he wanted to give this identification freely of himself, this assuming of responsibility for all the pain of creation, but wanting and being capable are two different things, and he found himself in the grip of resentment for having given so much of himself without any evident change either in himself, or in the world.

          Only Jesus Christ was capable of giving himself so prodigally, and without resentment, on his cross, and from his cross. If I participate in that giving, in that identification, it is the result of his gifting his unbounded act of self-giving to me through Baptism, through faith.

          Humanly speaking, I cannot give in the way that he has; to think that I can or have is to put myself in the grip of an illusion. But to the degree that I’m mystically joined to Jesus Christ, along with the rest of his Church, then the benefit of his self-giving identification with the suffering of the world, his taking responsibility for it (I think of his baptism by John and how it foreshadowed the cross on Golgotha), accrues to me, and the rest of his Church. Jesus Christ grafts me into his great, free act of self-giving for the Other, and makes his work mine by mystical identification. Herein is the salvation from myself, and my lack of love, that I can never work by my own will or choice, because of their limitedness, which is inadequate for a task that requires unlimited self-giving.

          And so I am just, yet sinner, as Luther said.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Yes, we must be joined to Jesus Christ, and everything is gift from him. No argument there. And in that joining we can, little by little, make our way toward that ability to be truly human, to tap into how he has rescued us, continue to receive healing and eventually, even in the smallest way, be able to give of ourselves the way Jesus did, and without resentment, but simply returning the gift to him. Our task is not to “keep score,” being fixated on “how we’re doing” with this, but to simply keep turning to him. That’s what “repentance” is – dropping our agendas (Wright) and keeping on turning to Jesus in that union with him (Hebrew shuv). Hard to do, but not very complicated…

            Something that has resonated with me since I first read it in 2009 is quote from Met. Kallistos Ware: “To keep us in simplicity, God may hide our spiritual progress from us; and it is not for us to measure ourselves.” This goes against all the ways we are taught and pressured to “grow,” to “get things right” – in short, another aspect of the wretched urgency that afflicts our culture and our Christian culture. As a recovering perfectionist, I found it extremely liberating, a huge weight dropping off my shoulders.

            Dana

          • ” That’s what ‘repentance’ is – dropping our agendas (Wright) and keeping on turning to Jesus in that union with him (Hebrew shuv). Hard to do, but not very complicated…”

            My experience with agendas is that they cling to me like leeches, in places I cannot see or reach, even in places of which I may be unaware, and that, unless someone else helps me find and remove them, they bleed me dry.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Robert, that is what the Holy Spirit is for, and He works a lot of the time through people helping us find and remove, whether “directly” through wise advice, or “indirectly” through… an argument with my husband 🙂

            We have to be able, with His help, to work on this bit by bit, or else it was extremely unfair for Jesus to command us to love, and further to love like God, to the point of loving and giving oneself up for one’s “enemies” – at which point there are no more agendas….

            Dana

  10. david brainerd says:

    Horton is a Calvinist and all his books are is Calvinist propaganda. He would never be satisfied with any version of Christianity that didn’t include John Calvin lording over us as pope and perforating our tongues if we don’t sing his personal praises heartily enough.

  11. Based on this here comment and others you’ve written I recon you are one of them blog trolls.