December 14, 2017

Best of Michael Spencer: The Coming Evangelical Collapse

Desert 3

Note from CM: This is the article that brought Michael what he called his “15 minutes.” There would be two more posts on the subject (linked at the bottom). Though he claimed to not be a prophet, he had a great deal of insight about the culture of evangelicalism in the U.S. and where it was (and is) headed.

• • •

My Prediction

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.”

The party is almost over for evangelicals; a party that’s been going strong since the beginning of the “Protestant” 20th century. We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century in a culture that will be between 25-30% non-religious.

This collapse, will, I believe, herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian west and will change the way tens of millions of people see the entire realm of religion. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.

The response of evangelicals to this new environment will be a revisiting of the same rhetoric and reactions we’ve seen since the beginnings of the current culture war in the 1980s. The difference will be that millions of evangelicals will quit: quit their churches, quit their adherence to evangelical distinctives and quit resisting the rising tide of the culture.

Many who will leave evangelicalism will leave for no religious affiliation at all. Others will leave for an atheistic or agnostic secularism, with a strong personal rejection of Christian belief and Christian influence. Many of our children and grandchildren are going to abandon ship, and many will do so saying “good riddance.”

This collapse will cause the end of thousands of ministries. The high profile of Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Hundreds of thousands of students, pastors, religious workers, missionaries and persons employed by ministries and churches will be unemployed or employed elsewhere. [ ]. Visible, active evangelical ministries will be reduced to a small percentage of their current size and effort.

Nothing will reanimate evangelicalism to its previous levels of size and influence. The end of evangelicalism as we know it is close; far closer than most of us will admit.

My prediction has nothing to do with a loss of eschatological optimism. Far from it. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But I am not optimistic about evangelicalism, and I do not believe any of the apparently lively forms of evangelicalism today are going to be the answer. In fact, one dimension of this collapse, as I will deal with in the next post, is the bizarre scenario of what will remain when evangelicals have gone into decline.

I fully expect that my children, before they are 40, will see evangelicalism at far less than half its current size and rapidly declining. They will see a very, very different culture as far as evangelicalism is concerned.

I hope someone is going to start preparing for what is going to be an evangelical dark age.

Desert 2

Why Is This Going To Happen?

1) Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This was a mistake that will have brutal consequences. They are not only going to suffer in losing causes, they will be blamed as the primary movers of those causes. Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.

The investment of evangelicals in the culture war will prove out to be one of the most costly mistakes in our history. The coming evangelical collapse will come about, largely, because our investment in moral, social and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. We’re going to find out that being against gay marriage and rhetorically pro-life (yes, that’s what I said) will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence and are believing in a cause more than a faith.

2) Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions of youth ministers, Christian music, Christian publishing and Christian media has produced an entire burgeoning culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures that they will endure.

Do not be deceived by conferences or movements that are theological in nature. These are a tiny minority of evangelicalism. A strong core of evangelical beliefs is not present in most of our young people, and will be less present in the future. This loss of “the core” has been at work for some time, and the fruit of this vacancy is about to become obvious.

3) Evangelical churches have now passed into a three part chapter: 1) mega-churches that are consumer driven, 2) churches that are dying and 3) new churches that whose future is dependent on a large number of factors. I believe most of these new churches will fail, and the ones that do survive will not be able to continue evangelicalism at anything resembling its current influence. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

Our numbers, our churches and our influence are going to dramatically decrease in the next 10-15 years. And they will be replaced by an evangelical landscape that will be chaotic and largely irrelevant.

4) Despite some very successful developments in the last 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can hold the line in the rising tide of secularism. The ingrown, self-evaluated ghetto of evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself. I believe Christian schools always have a mission in our culture, but I am skeptical that they can produce any sort of effect that will make any difference. Millions of Christian school graduates are going to walk away from the faith and the church.

There are many outstanding schools and outstanding graduates, but as I have said before, these are going to be the exceptions that won’t alter the coming reality. Christian schools are going to suffer greatly in this collapse.

5) The deterioration and collapse of the evangelical core will eventually weaken the missional-compassionate work of the evangelical movement. The inevitable confrontation between cultural secularism and the religious faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, that much of that work will not be done. Look for evangelical ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6) Much of this collapse will come in areas of the country where evangelicals imagine themselves strong. In actual fact, the historic loyalties of the Bible belt will soon be replaced by a de-church culture where religion has meaning as history, not as a vital reality. At the core of this collapse will be the inability to pass on, to our children, a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7) A major aspect of this collapse will happen because money will not be flowing towards evangelicalism in the same way as before. The passing of the denominationally loyal, very generous “greatest generation” and the arrival of the Boomers as the backbone of evangelicalism will signal a major shift in evangelical finances, and that shift will continue into a steep drop and the inevitable results for schools, churches, missions, ministries and salaries.

• • •

Here are the links for all three of Michael Spencer’s original “Coming Evangelical Collapse” posts:

  1. The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 1
  2. The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 2
  3. The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 3

Comments

  1. I wonder if this election will be remembered as the Last Hurrah of the evangelical right. Cruz may or may not get the nomination, but if he does and gets stomped in the general election, where can the religious right go after that? And what becomes of the churches that have doubled down on this last run on the White House?

    • I don’t know about Last Hurrah — the Religious Right has been written off repeatedly over the last few election cycles, and still it seems to have strength.

      For me, the more telling factor has been the Trump phenomenon, which is of course very broad and complicated, and all the more so in the way it intersects Evangelicalism. Michael spoke above about an evangelicalism as a cause more than a faith, and nowhere is this more evident than in those evangelicals who throw their _enthusiastic_ support to Trump. Here I don’t simply mean the Bubba Vote: I get that. I mean people like a pastor with whom, in a typical moment of weakness and foolishness, I crossed swords on social media recently.

      I was told by this pastor that I should be _ashamed_ of myself for not supporting Trump — not merely that Trump was a hold-your-nose alternative to The Other Party’s candidate — but that Trump was the sort of strongman that would stave off a wimpy Christianity of which I’m apparently an advocate.

      Frankly, weeks later, I’m still reeling from that exchange, which put into stark relief just how deep the rot really is in certain corners of American Christianity. I’m glad it’s not the majority report of evangelicalism, but its presence at all is disturbing to say the very least.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I was told by this pastor that I should be _ashamed_ of myself for not supporting Trump — not merely that Trump was a hold-your-nose alternative to The Other Party’s candidate — but that Trump was the sort of strongman that would stave off a wimpy Christianity of which I’m apparently an advocate.

        Note the use of the word “strongman”.
        When you hear “strongman” used in a political sense, what’s the usual context?

        “They will call upon the Strong Man
        and the Strong Man will come.”
        — Carol Balizet, a Seventies Spiritual-Warfare novel whose title I don’t remember

    • If there was a last hurrah I’d say it was around 2004. 2008 and 2012 Candidates weren’t anywhere near the RR’s top choice on the Republican side. The 2014 GOP turnover was more Tea Party-driven than Religious Right (and there is a marked difference between the two).

      That said, I’d say over-reliance in politics from Christians is cyclical. If the Religious Right’s influence is far lower than in recent years, I expect it to return again in the future (and the Religious Left will be happy to remain useful tools for years to come, just like righties like Dobson et al were circa 1996). And just like economic crashes, an Evangelical Collapse won’t mean the end of Evangelicalism — it’ll mean a restructuring where some top-heavy ways aren’t seen as the best way forward. Even now megachurches are becoming satellite-driven campus churches where the pastor may be 100s of miles away.

      “How’d we make it rich? Kissing up to the powerful”
      “How’d we make our Pitch? Satellites by the Towerful.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Even now megachurches are becoming satellite-driven campus churches where the pastor may be 100s of miles away.

        And only appearing as Big Brother on all the franchise Telescreens every Sunday.

      • dirtyrottensaint says:

        Nice Steve Taylor reference! Easy Listening?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Cruz may or may not get the nomination, but if he does and gets stomped in the general election, where can the religious right go after that?

      Double Down and SCREAM LOUDER!

      And what becomes of the churches that have doubled down on this last run on the White House?

      Double Down yet again and start thinking of Other Ways to seize power than those Heathen-rigged elections.
      Like armed rebellion, terrorism, or Coup.
      (Works for Islam, doesn’t it? “GAWD WILLS IT!”)

  2. Strongly recommend the interview in the margins between Eric Landry and Michael. Great stuff. Thanks IMONK staff for keeping these thoughts and ideas in front of us. Go Reds/Royals.

  3. Christiane says:

    “1) Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This was a mistake that will have brutal consequences.”

    good for Michael that he saw this coming . . . now a lot of the culture warriors are lining up behind Cruz who, quite honestly, turns the stomachs of people instinctively

    but the real turning point for me was back when Paul Ryan’s budget was castigated by the US Catholic bishops for its potential to do real harm to the poor, the marginalized, and the weakest members of our society . . . that protest by the bishops turned many a Catholic vote AWAY from the Republicans because there is a line drawn that Catholic people of conscience cannot cross . . . Our Lord had a special heart for the poor and the marginalized, and in the Catholic mind, there is no way a Christ-follower can turn on these weakest members of our kind.

    Today, I heard on ‘Morning Joe’ that Bernie Sanders is invited to speak at the Vatican on the subject of moral and ethical economic policies . . . so here we have a warrior of another sort being given a voice FOR the poor in a venue where that sort of support is venerated as dear to the heart of Our Lord . . . and Bernie is Jewish, go figure 🙂

    when ‘conservative’ evangelical Christians turned against the poor in their alliance with a political entity that showed outward contempt for the poor in their economic ‘plan’, these evangelicals lost something irreplaceable . . . I don’t see it coming back anytime soon, no . . . Michael was more prophetic than we knew, and that doesn’t surprise me, being as gifted a voice for common sense as he was . . .

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Christ has become the god of the Rich and Powerful and ONLY the Rich and Powerful.

      Just like the Olympian Deities in the Roman Empire, divine guardians of Caesar and The System.

    • StuartB says:

      It’s a scary world we live in. I could copy and paste verbatim, no editing, what many religious leaders say, and I would be accused of having “cynicism.”

      The Poe eats itself.

  4. Maybe my hardest lesson to learn is that most people are doing the best they know how to do, not all, but most, and that people are going to be operating at all different levels of consciousness according to factors way beyond anyone’s control. If anything, I find Michael not near radical enough, but he was in fact highly radical considering his own roots, and we would not be gathered here today but for him.

    The interview linked above right called The Post-Evangelical Option strikes me as already dated– things seem to be moving incredibly fast these days. But the last sentence I find timeless and true: “If you are fortunate enough to have real world conversation partners in this journey, be grateful.” This place is the closest I can come to that. Thank you, Michael!

    • Danielle says:

      “ ‘If you are fortunate enough to have real world conversation partners in this journey, be grateful.’ This place is the closest I can come to that. Thank you, Michael!”

      I wonder if Michael had any idea what a lifeline IM would be, in various ways and in various places. Michael helped to articulate a lot of problems and misgivings others felt. But for a lot of people, there wasn’t space where they could be discussed. And that is a huge problem, because discussion and knowing there even *is* a wilderness others inhabit too is a good first step to processing the situation, and moving beyond the problems toward a sustainable faith and expression of it. I’m so grateful Michael sensed this about the situation.

      It’s been a strangely emotional experience to read Michael’s old essays again this week. When I first read them, I was newly out in the ‘wilderness’ and so disoriented and heartsick. At that time, a lot of my recent experience was in institutional contexts not unlike Michael’s and many commentors on IM. It did a lot of good to realize that other people were trying to figure out their way around similar problems. I was in a state of deep inner anxiety and had isolated myself. I had previously converted into Christianity by way of the evangelical tradition and swallowed the whole bundle of evangelical imperatives for thinking and feeling hook, line and sinker. Then I’d gone through some viscous whiplash when I realized I couldn’t get a lot of my intuitions, inner values, personal experience, or questions to mesh properly with it. At the time it felt like a choice between basic honesty and Jesus. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Anyway, my solution at that time was to drop from the ranks and switch to radio silence. Specifically: I began attending another tradition’s service, where no one knew me, and where I said close to nothing about what going on with me. I also retreated into academe and behind a third person analytical voice. I had absolutely no idea where I was going or how to get there. Or if I’d just left Jesus, or not, or what.

      That’s too much detail – a self-indulgence for which I apologize. But I mention all this so it will be clear what I mean, when I say that it mattered to me to run across Michael’s essays (and the many tremendous comments he stirred up, both at the time and later, by ripple-effect).

      A few years down the line, I’m equally grateful to be able say that I’ve very slowly (probably too slowly) managed to rediscover faith and imagine again that God’s grace is still in the world, mine and other people’s. Specifically, that it might be in the common and everyday after first associating “grace” with the operations of the what Michael termed “the circus.” The conversation Michael kicked off here and that others have nudged and curated since that time has contributed a lot to my own attempts to worm my way forward. Such as they are. You’ve used the word church a few times, Charles. I don’t know what word fits, but I will say is that a lot of comments and conversations here, from many people over time, have been a help to me. I know I sound really sappy right now, but I’m grateful. Very grateful.

      That includes to a lot of people reading this comment. Don’t go anywhere, Charles. Also the rest of you’all.

      Sorry for hijacking your comment with my long one. I could just have said “amen.” But you know, old Baptists gotta testify.

      • StuartB says:

        “ ‘If you are fortunate enough to have real world conversation partners in this journey, be grateful.’ This place is the closest I can come to that. Thank you, Michael!”

        This has been one place. But I only find these places online. I know two people away from keyboard I can talk to about pretty much anything, and neither of them live within 5 hours of me.

        These little communities online help a lot.

      • Very well said. Many of us have the same ‘testimony’. Michael was truly a gift from God for me. He gave me permission to begin the journey and expressed what I was thinking, but often was too afraid to say (like his excellent essay about ‘Wretched Urgency’).. Others here (those who carried on his work and other commenters) have helped me along the way as well. I, like you, Danielle, don’t know where the journey is going, but this is a safe place (usually!) to travel and to think out loud.

  5. “They are not only going to suffer in losing causes, they will be blamed as the primary movers of those causes.”

    Already happened among the Tea Party and Trump supporters. If Ted Cruz is the nominee and loses, evangelicals will officially be out and the cultural war will officially be over.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      No, the Culture War will just shift into a more violent and underground phase.
      Us Against Them, to teeth and fingernails.

      “The cowardly ballot or the Noble Bullet?”
      — Fritz Leiber’s satirical SF novel A Spectre is Haunting Texas
      (In the scene this comes from, Texas Empire politicos are trying to talk the offworld visitor into assisting them in a Coup.)

      “Teach your children quietly
      For someday sons and daughters
      Will rise up and FIGHT where we stood still…”
      — Mike and the Mechanics, Silent Running
      (Best mash-up video on YouTube used visuals from the original Red Dawn)

  6. Danielle says:

    When I first read this essay by Michael, I thought his prediction was probably off, while his concerns were right on the mark. I don’t think the decline is likely to be as rapid as he suggests. Evangelicalism is also far more plastic than it appears, combative rhetoric notwithstanding, so its capacity for reinvention shouldn’t be underestimated. It has breathed the American cultural air for a long time, knows most of the tricks, and generally finds the experience invigorating. Still a decline and reconfiguration is before it, and is already here. Evangelicals who scoff at the mainlines for numerical decline will have to eat their own humble pie before long; even without the cultural factors, evangelical birthrates are down and attrition is high. This mirrors a situation occurring earlier in the mainlines. And I’m not sure anyone knows the outcome of the deep fissures that have appeared within the American landscape; they’ve always been there, but moderating forces seemed to have lost a lot of capital. That there is no contemporary equivalent “Billy Graham” – a controversial figure, to be sure, but someone who somehow straddled part of the American center, had wide recognition, and all while speaking Evangelical – is telling. The center does not hold.

    I’ve noticed that the repulsion away from evangelicalism by those who don’t understand it or who have rejected it rises to the level of moral outrage or shocked disbelief. It’s a sign that evangelicalism is identified strongly as being on a “side” and that its language is beginning to sound like foreign tongue to a large swath of people. That is a big problem for the movement. In fairness, though, it can be noted that neither side of the “sides” in our current political-cultural polarization are very good at communication to those who are outside the orbits. Both think they are talking obvious common sense, but no on “the other side” gets it.

    It is interesting to see the evolution of the conversation at Internet Monk over time; it was always clear that those who were troubled or dislocated from evangelicalism were headed in all directions. A few years later, this seems confirmed. Some have stayed and many others have either slowly settled elsewhere, or entered a state of wandering that appears long-term. And IM people tend still to affiliate with churches; once you count up nones and dones, the picture gets more complicated.

  7. I think the withering away of the Christian Right will be more complete by the mid 2020s or early 2030s, but the millennial Christians and their children may move closer to the Center and Left. I think the process and its pace will depend on various social, economic, political, and cultural circumstances in the near future. I think we may see some strands of the Alt-Right slowly supplanting the old traditional Right, especially if the economy somehow took a bad turn and when people continue to fear terrorism and demographic changes. I know the ascendancy of the Alt-Right is more rapid in certain states of Europe because of the economic situation and nationalist fear of refugees.

    • rophergraceless says:

      Just to be clear on terminology when you refer to the Alt-Right you mean White Supremacists correct? I only ask because I have seen the term Alt-Right used to describe the new emergence, in the wake of Trump, of neo-nazis, KKK, and white supremeists in the US. I have seen them use the term to describe themselves as well. So just wondering how you mean it here…

      • I think Alt-Right is a very diverse set of ideologies that set themselves apart from the old traditional Right. White supremacy is definitely a common characteristic shared by almost all Alt-Right ideologies. Their economic positions vary a lot, but it really depends on the economic situation and constituents of certain countries. Some Alt-Right ideologues describe themselves as anti-capitalists, especially in depressed Greece where Golden Dawn, which acts like an old-school fascist movement, competes for voters with their Far Left rivals. In America and northern Europe, most people sympathetic with ideas that would be considered Alt-Right are usually pro-capitalist but populist like many of Donald Trump’s supporters or the National Front in France. Whatever their economic views are, they all share some form of white supremacy and unfortunately, racism and sexism are rampant among Alt-Right people.

        Going back to the topic of the Christian Right, I think something has to fill in the void once the power of the Christian Right almost cease to exist in the future. They are a lot of angry young men and most of them do not like liberals, leftists, and Christian conservatives. Right now, many of them are supporting Trump and I think they will be more assertive and emboldened in the future. I have a feeling that whatever replaces the decayed Christian Right, it will be a lot worse for all of us to deal with, but I could be an alarmist and be completely wrong. I guess that is for the future to decide, so we will have to see what happens in the next decade.

        • tophergraceless says:

          But hasn’t white supremacy always been on the margins/big chunk of the Christian Right? I know that is uncomfortable to say but in my experience and reading the white supremacy movement, in the United States at least, has always been tied to the Christian Right. It just seems that now that group appears to have come off the sidelines and to be driving the Christian Right narrative.

          I live in Utah and have close ties to Mormonism and it is the racism and white supremacy and anti-immigrant feeling that seems to be driving a lot of people here (mormons) against Trump.and that element in the republican party. Many conservative Mormons I know would vote Hillary before Trump and I guess I am just worried that Trump, win or lose, will create a long lasting, openly racist and fascist Alt-Right element in the Republican Party and that is not something this county needs. Unfortunately I see this movement easily tying itself to the amorphous blob that is the current Christian Right and Evangelicalism. Anyway just some thought from what I see. The emergence and legitimization of the Alt-Right is by far the most damaging thing that will come out of this election no matter who wins.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            Say what you want about the alt right. They are pushing the Overton window back into places where it hasn’t been seen in this country since before World War II. Open, unashamed anti-Semitism and isolationism used to be far more common on the American right before Bill Buckley threw the Birchers out of the National Review.

            The hip new term is not RINO, but cuckservative

            Now maybe the Left will find the cojones to do some pushing of their own. I was surprised to discover that Henry Wallace (one of FDR’s vice presidents) was in favor of government subsidized health care, the nationalization of banks and railroads, and a guaranteed income in the 1940s. Even Bernie ain’t there yet.

            Maybe the 2020 election will legitimize the Trotskyites in the same way that 2016 legitimized the Southern Citizens’ Council, and we’ll have a real political discourse in this country.

          • You are absolutely correct. The Christian Right for a long time had the aspect of racism or white supremacy, but the mainstream ideological orthodoxy of today’s conservatism eschew explicit racism because it was no longer acceptable after the Civil Rights Era. By ideological orthodoxy, I mean the Republican Party’s standard economic deregulation and promotion of socially conservative values. I look at the Christian Right like a spectrum from Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum (both somewhat moderate) to the ultraorthodox ideologues like Ted Cruz. If asked about racism, all of these orthodox conservative political leaders would sincerely condemn it, although there can be doubt about their supporters because racism is still deeply embedded into American culture and lingers on in many constituents even if they don’t realize it.

            On the deep fringes, some people are not too concerned with ideological orthodoxy and many are not skittish about racism because protecting white identity is a priority. Some extreme groups identify as Christian like the KKK or the Christian Identity movement, but there are also many individual atheists (or perhaps just “nones”) who are disgruntled with liberalism, leftist ideologies, and traditional Christian conservatism. All of these people can be collectively known as the Alt-Right.

            In the orthodox conservative viewpoint, the Orange Loose Cannon is either a dangerously heterodox person or a deranged populist because he strays from the ideological orthodoxy that the Christian Right traditionally follows (not to mention he makes racist statements that orthodox conservatives would denounced), making him attractive to the Alt-Right people.

            I have a tendency to categorize political groups of people, but I do have a difficult time defining the Alt-Right. In the worldview of the Alt-Right people, they are all against “political correctness”, Marxism, multiculturalism, etc., but it is hard to know what exactly the Alt-Right stands for. On one hand, there are extreme libertarians and the other, authoritarian fascists. Today, I watched a dumb video of Golden Dawn neo-Nazis lauding Trump while dramatic music plays. These guys claim to be anti-capitalists, although Trump is a capitalist, but I guess it does not matter to them because white supremacy is the ultimate goal.

        • Robert F says:

          I think you’re right, tophergraceless. American evangelicalism as we know it may suffer a total collapse, and even disappear in a generation or two, but reactionary social forces are on the move here, as they are in Europe, and they will fill the void left by any collapse of institutional religion. The only religion needed for that to happens is nationalism.

          • Robert F says:

            Correction: I should’ve started by saying, “I think you’re right, Zelea….”

      • StuartB says:

        Alt-Right = those who call Conservatives “RINOs”. See also: Tea Party. And yes, there is a huge white supremacist part of it.

  8. I don’t know if cultural war will ever truly be over. There has been some kind of cultural war going on in this country since (or even before) its inception. If it wasn’t federal power versus state rights, it was big business vs government regulation or prohibitionists vs everyone else or isolationists vs globalizationists or commie hunters vs. Hollywood or young idealists vs the establishment right up to the current conservatism vs liberalism showdown. It may die down for a while but it will emerge in a new form with new players, hot-button issues, and buzzwords. I suspect the next manifestation may come close to outright class warfare.

    • I meant the above as a response to Dumb Ox’s statement about the end of cultural war, but it kicked it down to the bottom for some reason.

    • StuartB says:

      More and more I see the federal government protecting the citizens from states tyranny. Especially these last two weeks.

      Everything just runs in cycles. Nothing new under the sun. Wheel keeps turning.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      I think your comment on “class warfare” is on target. I’ve been thinking about this myself for sometime now. Marx was a complete failure as an economist and as spokesperson for where “history” was headed. He was, however, a pretty good sociologist from what I can make out. The success, so far, of Trump’s candidacy could well be the opening salvo of a class warfare that would not have pleased Marx at all.

  9. Michael Bell says:

    As an interesting note: Since this was first written, Southern Baptist weekly worship attendance (the denomination with which he was most aquainted) has dropped 10% (in 5 years). Dropping 50% in two generations does not sound that far off.

    • I doubt that not at all. But you just have to question the wisdom of making the same old dwindling crowd of people, most of whom “got saved” 30 or 40 years ago, sit through two or three 45-minute to an hour sermons per week, all specifically focused on getting people to come down front and make a “decision” for Christ. And as for the young people, most of those are drifting away (like I did) when they go off to college or enter the workforce. Here in backwoods West Tennessee, there are hundreds of little denominational churches that are just a few obituaries away from dying out completely. Some way, somehow there has to be a major paradigm shift away from sermon/preacher-centered church.

    • Mike, your research and your graphs on the shifts between denominations comes to mind. What would you say about the shift among the Southern Baptists toward New Calvinism, concurrent to the 10% decline numerically? A lot of conservative evangelical churches, Baptist and otherwise, have “doubled down” against current sexual politics and have moved in this direction—which I would call a form a fundamentalism with a Calvinist twist.

      See also Dr. Fundystan’s comment, below at 4:48 pm. As he suggests, the collapse may already be here, only in a moral sense if not numerical.

  10. I think Michael had the right idea, just the wrong accidens. I believe the collapse is already here, although not complete. The primary markers of this collapse include: rise of the dones; increasing occurrences of gross sin within leading evangelical institutions; rapid and radical theological shift to align ministry message with what is profitable. The first is a trailing metric of those who have either been hurt by the institutional church or don’t understand how it could possibly matter in their lives. The second is an indicator of just how much evil has crept into the institutional church. The third is the tacit surrender of conviction for the sake of money and/or power (and for those who think the fundamentalist-esque theological tenacity of the neo-Puritan movement is not this very compromise, think again – calvinism is a dramatic theological shift for the baptists (Mohler) and emergents (Driscoll) and charismatics (Mahaney) who suddenly pretend that it is “real true” doctrine…and let’s not forget Driscoll’s sudden influence in prosperity and charismatic circles). Any one of these, if normative in church would redefine what evangelical might mean. The concurrent normalization of all three can rightly be referred to as a “collapse” of evangelicalism.

  11. As an atheist who has seen the rise of Evangelism and it’s merging with the Republican party in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I hope the author is right.

    It’s been a long time coming, but American Evangelism truly is an evil influence in American society, and if they collapse, it will be largely because of their hypocrisy, and the utterly repulsive mean-spirited nature of their movement.

    When Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Kennedy, and a host of other Evangelical leaders became the heart and soul of the Republican party in the 1980s, and pushed for “family values”, it was obvious that “family values” was a sham and a lie. These men cared far more about money and power than they did about the welfare of their fellow citizens, and their actions proved it.

    Millions of Americans had their faith co-opted by these Evangelical scam artists who wanted to cash in on big-time religion. Mega-churches turned Christianity into a commercial venture whose goal was to get people to tithe their income and buy the trinkets and junk that the church sold to them. Some churches even got people to work in their own sweatshops making products for below-minimum wage pay.

    They sell books, clothes, music, video, fashion, and some even sell travel packages to Israel. They are so capitalistic and money-oriented that they even have hostile takeovers, like the time Jerry Falwell swindled Jim and Tammy Baker into giving their ministry to him (really, they should have read the contract!).

    The fact is that too many people in the Evangelical movement are simply hypocrites. This is an age-old problem for many religions, not just Evangelicals. Hypocrisy is the main problem in religion and politics where people promote a set of ideals and then behave as though they forgot all about the beliefs they claim to believe. It’s the mindset that lets people believe that rape is a crime where a young woman lies about being raped to ruin the career of a good man. It’s the mindset that allows people to think that their ignorance and “making up answers” is just as good as the lifelong education and accreditation of experts in various fields who have researched answers all their lives. It’s the mindset that allows these people to claim that they believe in doing what Jesus said, which is to love everyone, feed the poor, clothe the naked, and show compassion, while at the same time condemning the poor as lazy criminals who should be ignored, and demonstrating hate towards “the world” (unbelievers and non-members of the faith), whom they believe they must be at war with.

    The mindset of American Evangelism is why so many people find them revolting. They demonstrate no love, no compassion, and whine incessantly about being persecuted, as though persecution equals “not accepting that Evangelicals are truly righteous and are the ones who are following Christianity the way it was meant to be”.

  12. I actually don’t understand the point of the cultural war. Culture has no value to the vast evangelical industrial complex except as means to an end to proselytize. Perhaps evangelicals view liberalism as competition cutting in on its exploitation of culture to further a cause. Perhaps there is truth to that: certain groups outside evangelicalism have equally low views of culture. So the culture war is a struggle in the mud pit of culture, not an effort to truly enhance and extend the value of human culture.

  13. Take the cultural aspect of family. Evangelicals claim to defend the sanctity of marriage and human life. The typical definition given of family reduces women and children as mere objects of pleasure and significance for men. Evangelicals wring their hands over pornography having a greater impact within the church than outside it but can’t come to terms with definitions of gender, marriage, and family which are in any way different than secular culture. I remember a radio broadcast where a Christian marriage specialist reduced women to an endorphin delivery system for their husbands (if they failed, it was their fault if their husbands looked else ware for their endorphin fix). Sexuality in the eyes of Evangelicals is one of sedation rather than relationship and joy. It is a culture of estrangement and non-being that reduces humans to objects. This is why Evangelicals are losing in the battle over pornography and the sanctity of marriage. This is a far cry from the huge cultural shift early Christianity had on Roman culture by giving women value and the sanctity of marriage meaning. Modern Evangelicalism is reversing what Christianity accomplished over 1,500 years ago.