October 17, 2017

Another Look: The Coming Evangelical Collapse

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

Note from CM: This week, we will focus on the state of evangelicalism in the U.S. It was five years ago that Michael Spencer wrote his “Coming Evangelical Collapse” posts, which brought him a great deal of attention and caused much discussion.

I have begun reading Steven P. Miller’s book, The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years, which looks at of “the place and meaning of evangelical Christianity in the United States from the 1970s through the first decade of the twenty-first century” (p. 4). In the book’s introduction, Miller notes how a great change happened in evangelicalism between 2004 and 2008, and that one might even say evangelicalism went from being “the new normal” in the U.S. to “yesterday’s news.”

Michael wrote his piece in 2009 and suggested that within ten years, we would see a major collapse in evangelical Christianity. I hope that reviewing these, his most read articles, will help us have a good discussion this week about the past forty years of evangelicalism, its current state, and its future prospects.

• • •

church-storm-prairie-e1361538344743My 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.

storm-clouds-gather-over-church-ian-middletonWhy 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.

Next: What Will Be Left?

• • •

Here are the links for 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 don’t see it ever happening (the collapse).

    Too many people love to be entertained…and to have some role in their salvation (their “free-will” decision).

  2. davidbrainerd2 says:

    The real reason is faith alone is a failed theology. It fails every time its tried…only to be resurrected by another useful idiot. First Paul. Failed, ceased to exist. Then the gnostics. Failed, ceased to exist. Then the Reformers. And here comes the failure, yet again, of a theological system so stupid it could have been put together by the cast of Barney and Friends.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The real reason is faith alone is a failed theology.

      Agree, 110%.

      Make a bold declarative statement, and then try to caveat-and-addendum “what I really mean is” it into relevance. Huh, why wouldn’t that work?

      > of a theological system so stupid

      I don’t like the word “stupid”, but… yeah. However it isn’t that Luther was necessarily wrong – his disciples just got hung up on demanding it be phrased in a certain way, a way obscures the fullness of what he had to say. Of course, they aren’t the only tribe in human history to fall victim to sloganeering; the vice of sloganeering is quite common. But one would hope professional clergy would be above it….

    • That is baseless, indefensible, and completely ridiculous, on the surface. “Faith alone” Protestantism has been responsible for the greatest movement of missions and evangelism in the last 150 years the Christian faith has ever seen. The “failed theology” you see “falling apart” just because it got co-opted in the comfortable first world is alive, thriving, and expanding in Africa and South America.

      I’m sure Barney and friends could have put together the Apology to the Augsburg confession. I’m willing to bet you haven’t ever read it.

      • Faith alone as understood by the revivalist and holiness crowds, two groups which have decimated America.

        • I don’t want to misunderestimate the harm that can be done by their err, but many in those groups, especially the revivalist SBC’ers, poured historically unheard of sums of money into foreign missions over the last century, and though their theology isn’t perfect, they took the name and message of Christ to the corners of the earth. I am concerned about the long-term effects of such a pervasive adherence to decision theology and the like, but the “net effect” on those who call on the name of the Triune God, as a result of their efforts, is overwhelmingly positive, even if the foundations in this country are eroding. There are other factors at play here besides just this peculiar doctrine. Combined with capitalism and free-market religious entrepreneurialism, it makes a deadly concoction. One that, oddly enough, God still uses in various ways.

          • david brainerd says:

            But ultimately having taken the name and “message” of Christ to the corners of the earth with their errors tacked on will just end up making atheists of the civilizations they are spoiling with their false doctrines. They’re going to raise them to a middle class secularism, that’s all. A secularism that at first pretends to be Christian and excuses drunkenness and adultery and fornication and whatever under the guise of “faith alone” and “once saved always saved” but eventually as this doctrine makes them calloused to everything spiritual they will admit to merely being atheists and switch to the fully secularized form of “faith alone” which is justification by existence alone.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      That is just such an odd declaration, and so completely at odds with pretty much everything written by historical theologians, that I will just decline to respond. I do love declarations that begin with “the real reason”, though.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with Miguel, “’Faith alone’ Protestantism has been responsible for the greatest movement of missions and evangelism in the last 150 years the Christian faith has ever seen.”

      Christianity is a faith. Take faith out of the equation and Christianity gets taken out. Corrupt faith by adding theistic moralism to it and Christianity becomes corrupt. “Without faith it is impossible to please him…” (Hebrews 11.6) If “faith alone” does not suffice then what will? What is left to live for?

      • What makes it even odder is that Paul is listed as the first theological failure, which means that, contra Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, the boat was scuttled very, very, very early.

        • The demise of Christianity has been prophesied and it’s extermination attempted for two millennia. And yet, “We believe…”

          • Mmm, I dunno. To me, it seems that Christianity hasn’t ‘survived for 2,000 years’ but rather has died serial deaths for 2,000 years and then been periodically reinvented. The waters of this are muddied because the forms that have died till hold out as ‘rumps’ of prior movements. Sure, there are still Copts in Egypt, Nestorians here and there, Christians in Iraq (for now . . .), a patriarch still sits in Istanbul, but if you read over history, these folks use to Rule Empires (capitalization intended).

            Same deal with American Evangelicalism. Once it bestrode the earth, could collar the attention of world-emperors (sorry, “Presidents”). But it died in the dusty alleys of Iraq and in ballot boxes in November 2008.

            Don’t worry, there will always be white Southern Evangelicals: 500 years from now, there are sure to be *several thousand* of them left, perhaps poling their reed boats among the coastal estuaries of the Florida archipelago . . .

          • david brainerd says:

            What I meant was somewhat like what J says. Paulinism died out quickly. By 140-150 the dominant champion of “Orthodoxy,” namely Justin Martyr, seems to have never heard of Paul and certainly didn’t teach the Pauline doctrine of faith alone. But luckily for Paul, the Gnostic heretic Marcion arose at that time to revive Paulinism. Again, Paulinism died, as Marcionism was rejected and Paul’s doctrines were largely ignored until Augustine. After a while, Augustine’s doctrines were forgotten and Pauline faith alone shelved again, until the Reformation. Its bound to fail again. Its bound to happen that Paulinism is thrown in the trash once more only to be resurrected by another putz willing to give it another try only to destroy the moral fabric of civilization again.

  3. Faulty O-Ring says:

    The lede speaks of the article as five years old, but mentions that it was written in 2005. The first figure seems to refer to its 2009 publication in the Christian Science Monitor.

    Another dating quibble: Spencer’s first paragraph refers–almost in the same breath–to “within 10 years” and “within two generations.” A bit later he says before his children are 40. (No idea when that will be.) All of these seem to refer to the same prediction, that U.S. Evangelicalism will plummet to less than one-half its then-current size (as of 2005 or 2009). So now I am left to wonder when his prediction will come due–in 2015, 2019, or sometime in the 2060’s (for “two generations”)?

    • I’d say that it’s a both/and – we will see some major events that will kick off the cycle of decline in a big way, and will end up in a generation or two with evangelicalism at the same place churches in Europe are now. Mayhaps the Mars Hill scandal might be the match to the kindling? But that remains to be seen…

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Nothing seems to have caught fire so far, and there is no shortage of tinder. I believe they are here to stay. To be the thorn in America’s side for the foreseeable future.

        • They are here to stay. There will be a debacle here and there; but does anybody remember the Bakkers and Swaggart? Their debacles didn’t stop the juggernaut. For such a collapse to occur, there would have to be a corresponding change in American culture itself.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            The ghettoization of news and information created by social media and the decline of the broad media outlets is, ironically, their salvation.

          • Robert, some think the gay issue is that “corresponding change in American culture itself” that has put us over the continental divide.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            “the gay issue” may be their holding power. It can be their rallying banner, their “proof” of persecution, of the unholy godlessness of their masters.

          • If so, that will equally effect much of the non-evangelical Christian world, including Roman Catholicism most of all. It could spell a collapse, but not just of evangelicalism; rather, it would be the collapse of America’s lifelong engagement with institutional Christianity.

            Unless, of course, young evangelicals morph the movement into a countrywide Metropolitan Church. But would the acceptance of, or peaceful co-existence with, homosexuality really undo all the vices of the evangelical circus that are commonly emphasized here at iMonk? I think not.

          • The change that would need to come to American culture itself would have to involve a movement away from the cult of celebrity on the one hand, and the idolization of the self as consumer on the other. Until then, evangelicalism fills a religious need that hand-in-gloves with the American psyche, albeit with a little irritation here and there surrounding sexual mores.

            • Yes, that’s a good point. One wonders if the internet and social media are making any real inroads in deconstructing the celebrity culture. It seems to be playing a part in a few high profile cases.

              Meanwhile, here on our notch close to the buckle of the Bible Belt, evangelical churches are clearly the most “successful” — well attended, well regarded, machinery running without a hitch. Of course, we are also a deep red state politically.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “the gay issue” may be their holding power. It can be their rallying banner, their “proof” of persecution, of the unholy godlessness of their masters.

            So Fred Phelps may just have been ahead of the curve?

          • The internet and social media are deepening the problem of celebrity culture by making it possible for more and more people to view themselves as the celebrities they’ve heretofore only fantasized being from afar. Such a change might make people less interested in churches that run on the cult of celebrity, but it also will make them less interested in older traditional forms of Christianity. The Internet House Church of One, and all their Friends, would be a model congenial to such a change; but I bet the theologies that would spin out would scare you out of your socks.

        • Christiane says:

          one interesting thing I noticed with Driscoll and some Southern Baptists was the CONTRAST between how he was idolized three years ago and now they don’t know ‘what to do about him’:

          two posts on SBCvoices, the first from 2011, the second is current . . . take a look at the sharp contrast:

          ‘Thank God for Mark Driscoll’ by Dave Miller on December 3, 2011
          http://sbcvoices.com/thank-god-for-mark-driscoll/

          and

          ‘What to Do With Mark Driscoll’ by Dan Barnes on August 10, 2014
          http://sbcvoices.com

          always best to see what people have to say themselves and not to assume what they mean . . .

          without an opportunity for dialogue, only a reading of source material can perhaps yield some understanding (one hopes)

    • Maybe Hal Lindsey can be convinced to write a book about the predictions. Then everything would be settled.

      These prophecies include the evangelical world in the US. Are there a set of predictions for what will happen in Asia, Africa and Latin America?

    • 2009. Typo corrected. As always, I’m grateful for my editors.

    • Spencer may have been inspired, but he certainly wasn’t inerrant! 😛

      Either way, if 2019 arrives and Evangelicalism hasn’t lost more than 25%, I’m not gonna say he was wrong. These kind of predictions you take with a grain of salt, because their point isn’t to prove yourself psychic in 10 years. The point is to diagnose a set of problems that leads to the destructive undermining of a movement, and this he did very well and right on target. His numbers and stats may need some fine tuning, but the narrative of religion in America is bearing out his observations.

    • Those aren’t even challenges for dispensationalists! It’s “yes, and…” for all the dates.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    One of my writing partners (the burned-out preacher) credits John Nelson Darby (the founder of Dispensationalism and Rapture eschatology) with “destroying Protestant Christianity in America”. Because when The World Ends Tomorrow and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect any planning for the future or daring great things. (Only high-pressuring as much Fire Insurance as possible before The End.) And as the years go by and Nothing Happens as Prophesied, the slowly-revealed burn job becomes resentment which becomes rejection.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      This certainly helped. But I do not think it-is-all-gonna-burn is the real flaw in Evangelicalism, or that this meme even applies to the totality of Evangelicalism. It is the wedding of their religious sect to a particular vision of community and politic that constrains them. A vision of community and politic that does not match well with the facts-on-the-ground of the age we are moving into [technological, hyper-scale, urban, global]. In its position Evangelicalism is in a poor position to meet with people as they react to and deal with these forces [which produce interesting counter points: an emphasis on locality (local everything), personal networking, from-scratch/makers, neighborhood, and ethic awareness].

      • kerokline says:

        Its more than just poor positioning though. I mean, if our main concern is community building / outreach, there are plenty of evangelical churches who are growing and doing good social work. This of groups like Acts 29, or Summit Church. Evangelical, but youth positioned.

        I really do think its something deeper. Especially here in the south, evangelical church-goers just have a penchant for latching onto all kinds of odd tangents: anti-vaccine, pro-organic, Ayn Randian Objectivist philosophy holdovers, anarcho-capitalist leanings, “race realism” (black people have lower IQ stuff); the list goes on.

        Maybe I’m misreading it, but it seems to me that shallow worship experiences (as Doug Wilson would say, “therapeutic deism”) goes hand in hand with shallow thought. You end up bandwagoning on all sorts of half-baked ideas.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > if our main concern is community building / outreach

          It is certainly a staring place – without which you are doomed.

          > there are plenty of evangelical churches who are growing and
          > doing good social work

          Plenty? No, I disagree. There are *a few*. But they are insignificant; as the post mentions several times – there are exceptions to rule, but they call the rule “the rule” for a reason. These groups, unfortunately, do not own the platform and one has to go looking to find them; those who so own the platform allocate them precious little space. I expect such groups to unmoor from the Evangelical footings and either float free or tether themselves together in a new federation; or perhaps just fade out without the benefit of the Evangelical machinery.

          > evangelical church-goers just have a penchant for latching
          > onto all kinds of odd tangents

          All of these represent an anti-world anti-culture position, an extreme level of distrust in society’s institutions. They are, IMO, fueled by a sense of resentment and disenfranchisement fed by the subculture’s leaders. When you detach yourself from culture – your culture is the bandwagon, you don’t have anything else. People must have culture, you cannot actually detach, so something rushes in to fill the void [or something is let in by the gate keepers].

          > shallow worship experiences goes hand in hand with shallow thought

          We agree.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            > evangelical church-goers just have a penchant for latching
            > onto all kinds of odd tangents

            All of these represent an anti-world anti-culture position, an extreme level of distrust in society’s institutions.

            Just like Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories.

            “The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs! We Won’t be Taken In!”

            They are, IMO, fueled by a sense of resentment and disenfranchisement fed by the subculture’s leaders. When you detach yourself from culture – your culture is the bandwagon, you don’t have anything else. People must have culture, you cannot actually detach, so something rushes in to fill the void [or something is let in by the gate keepers].

            More like the gatekeepers define their own substitute culture, a Completely Closed System with the Gatekeepers in POWER — “I Reject your Reality and Substitute My Own!” Often with knockoffs of the main culture outside — “Just like fill-in-the-blank, Except…”

            And the Dwarfs stay safe in the Gatekeeper’s stable away from the Big Bad World outside the stable door, their resentment and disenfranchisement reflected back on themselves and ever-growing. Eh, My Dear Wormwood?

    • “Because when The World Ends Tomorrow and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect any planning for the future or daring great things.”

      You would think this would be the case. However, my observation American religious history is that the opposite is true. The “It’s All Gonna Burn” section of the American religious landscape is actually highly activistic and highly pragmatic. There is a very strong sense in the Darby-inspired eschatology of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism that ‘the end is near, the moment is now, the Spirit is moving NOW.’ And because saving and sanctifying individuals souls matters (and is the only thing that does), there tends to be tremendous activism focused in just a few directions. This dynamo has produced a few things that are good and a great many things that we all love to hate. It both protests mainstream developments in consumer culture while selling wonderfully to it. But a dynamo it is.

      The issue has never been that fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, or neo-evangelicalism didn’t know how to plan and execute Big Things. Rather, it is that they tend to fixated on one particular Big Thing.

      • “However, my observation American religious history is that the opposite is true.”

        Sorry, something went badly wrong with that sentence. Typing quickly at work.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The issue has never been that fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, or neo-evangelicalism didn’t know how to plan and execute Big Things. Rather, it is that they tend to be fixated on one particular Big Thing.

        Amway with Fire Insurance instead of soap.

        The Dwarfs in their stable while Aslan’s Land waits outside.

    • “resentment becomes rejection” and my generation more than ever goes through that in a few quick years. Thanks in large part to the internet and information not being hidden behind pay walls.

      HUG, we really need to get your writing partner on here commenting more.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    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.

    And what does a society do when it encounters a threat from within or without?
    To enthusiastic cheering?

    • kerokline says:

      There’s an awkward dance that goes on here too.

      Evangelicals consider themselves the only true Christians ->
      American society equates all Christians with Evangelicals ->
      When Americans get angry with “Religion”, they leave the Christian tradition entirely

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Because Fundagelicals have redefined “Christian” without any adjectives to mean THEIR brand of Christian alone.

        “I used to be Catholic (or Presbyterian, or Methodist, etc), but now I’m CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

        • That is because I am a Christian (no TM): a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. It is of secondary importance that I do this as a United Methodist attending an Episcopal church. If someone asks what my religion is, I am a Christian. Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, Roman Catholic, etc. are branches of Christianity.

  6. Michael’s articles are essentially about the way Evangelicalism attempts to come to grips with its times. Culture war, youth ministry, church structure, education, missional face, regional allegiances, the ways it has funded ministries. His presentation is based on methodology in the face of the reality of secularism.
    Stephen P. Miller’s book is a history of this same failed methodology.
    The underlying issue is about the Gospel in a secular age. That involves both articulating a gospel beyond the mile wide, yet devastatingly shallow one that evolved in Evangelical culture AND understanding secular( which I believe James K A Smith, Lesslie Newbigin, Charles Taylor, others), have shown Christianity in general has misunderstood and has had a facile response.
    As to misunderstanding secular- please look up James K A Smith’s glossary( in “How(Not) To Be Secular”) the definitions of Age of Authenticity, Buffered Self, Cross Pressure, Social Imaginary, the Unthought, and Excarnation.
    As to facile response, I believe Michael Spencer, in the seven areas listed, was right on as to methods that need total overhauls.

  7. I haven’t read Miller’s book, but I do believe a fundamental change has happened in the past 10 years. Before that, the church growth movement was basically still close to orthodox christianity, but with an undercurrent of prosperity gospel. In the past 10 years, the super-mega churches have been growing rapidly. These super-megas have completely abandoned classical orthodox Christianity in favor of ‘successful living’ teaching. These churches have interconnected boards of directors, where the senior pastors friends are on the board of directors.

    It has gotten so bad, that those of us who disagree with ‘successful living’ Christianity are treated like heretics.

  8. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > I believe that we are on the verge — within 10 years…
    > I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with
    > astonishing statistical speed;

    Hmmmm. I rather hope this is true, but it seems too optimistic. This collapse has been predicated, and tarried in coming, before…. the storm continues unabated. They have taken some hits, but their potency seems undiminished [which seems almost diabolical given the epic nature of many of their blunders – I can only assume they survive because nobody but themselves is actually listening to what they say, otherwise – diabolical].

    > 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.

    I am convinced this describes “normal”, and before the Jesus movements of the 60s planted the seed for *modern* evangelicalism was pretty much were America was previously for several decades. It was just the cultural norm for the non-religious to be non-confrontational about it. And who was it that made *EVERYTHING* about confrontation?

    > Many who will leave evangelicalism will leave for no religious
    > affiliation at all.

    I’ve seen this. Or they maintain their affiliation, sort of, but in name only, with no active affiliation. But, hey, “Faith Alone!”.

    > Hundreds of thousands of students, pastors, religious workers,
    > missionaries and persons employed by ministries and churches will be
    > unemployed or employed elsewhere

    This is a true tragedy. My region which is hip-deep in “Christian Schools” looses a school at least once a year [for years now]. I feel for that schools employees – who is going to hire a Christian school teacher? On the other hand: you reap what you sow – they have fiercely advocated the savaging of the social support system, that the unemployed were lazy, ungrateful, and lacked initiative.

    The reasons these schools fail is always the same – they depend on a continuous level of donations from their graduated students. Students have always given back to the schools once they entered adulthood. This model has worked for decades. Only now students don’t. But back to reaping what you sow – those students enter an adulthood of low wages, poor benefits, and carrying a heavy load of debt. That is in sharp contrast to their [early] baby-boomer forebears. Failure to see this outcome on the horizon requires a special level of obliviousness.

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

    Assuming your prognostication of collapse holds.

    > increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America,

    I feel that way today. Most of the people I know feel that way. Of course we feel that way – they hate us. And they talk “boldly” about how much they hate us 24/7/365 – and then if someone doesn’t like them it is “PERSECUTION&OPPRESSION!!!”. Sympathy becomes hard to muster.

    > Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical
    > Christian faith in an orthodox form

    This.

    > fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive

    At least three large church buildings in my neighborhood or adjacent neighborhoods have very recently been converted into apartment buildings. That might be evidence for your prediction.

    Aside: does someone really want a stained glass window depicting a religious scene over their bed? They leave most of the “historic” church architecture intact. To me that is just creepy.

    > Christian education has not produced a product that can hold the line
    > in the rising tide of secularism.

    I can attest to this, having been in college ministry for years. Graduates from Christians schools are – in the main – far behind their public school counterparts in both general knowledge and socialization skills. And home schooled kids… I’m not a touchy-feely guy but one just wanted to hug them; poor things, so visibly out-of-place. — I know this will touch off the home-school-defense-squad. Okay, somebody somewhere is probably doing a great job at it. I’m not interested in the discussion – the results I have seen are capital-T Tragic.

    > 5) The deterioration and collapse of the evangelical core will
    > eventually weaken the missional-compassionate work of the evangelical
    > movement.

    True.

    > A major aspect of this collapse will happen because money will not be
    > flowing towards evangelicalism in the same way as before.

    We’ll see. There are some deep wells, they will take some time to pump dry. I give them well more than a decade before there is a notable decline n vitality.

    > 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

    This is going to effect everything, everywhere – but somehow this just hasn’t registered in the zeitgeist. Most technocrat level people I know are keenly aware [Municipal and DOT employees, etc… the “boring” kind of people] but everyone else – not so much.

    * The share of single-person households has tripled from 9.2 percent in 1950 to 27.5 percent in 2008
    * The share of married couples with children peaked at 44.3 percent in 1957 and fell to 22.0 percent in 2009
    * In Michigan 1 in 6 working age citizens will turn 65 in the next *SIX* years. That is 16% of the workforce. Most places have numbers equivalent too, or more severe, than this.
    * Millennial are migrating too urban centers, places where they have to interact with a diverse range of people on a day to day basis, and probably in the workplace.

    This is just not a world where the Evangelical model has a place. But I have ‘faith’ in its ability to hold its bite on power.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Especially when the “Evangelical Model’s” response seems to be Double Down, Get MORE Extreme, and SCREAM LOUDER!

      “And stop screaming. Nobody likes a religion with people screaming.” — IMonk

      • Islam, or at least a portion of it, seems to be screaming. I keep looking for someone who can explain this apparent Islamic rage to me, but all of the Muslims I know are wonderful people, straight out of Little Mosque On The Prairie. They want me to try their hummus balls.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Maybe the decent Muslims fled the Old Country and only the screaming crazies are left.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          It is not hard to explain; these places are in political and cultural ruin, a maze of power vacuums and would be kings. Cultures immersed in religion express themselves using religious rhetoric; the core message, grievance, or frustration [or all the above] may not be religiously motivated. We saw this in the conflict in Bosnia, where an ethnic division with historical grievances was heavily colored by the predominate religion on both sides.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            As well, Westerners can’t seem to wrap their minds around non separation of church and state, and its implications for public rhetoric.

        • Don’t underestimate the leavening effect of American pluralism and consumerism; they may want you to try their hummus balls, but many of them no doubt have already sampled all-beef hot dogs at the local mall.

    • Keep in mind that many of the changes you list that seem ill-suited to evangelicalism are also ill-suited to more traditional forms of Christianity. You are describing vast cultural changes that will affect everyone who has a boat in the water.

      • While I think you’re right, Robert, don’t traditions with more institutional ballast such as Roman Catholicism, have a distinct advantage over groups like evangelicalism? They’ve weathered a lot of sea changes for a long time.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          I think it CAN play into their hands; don’t know if it will. The counter-reactions to the forces at work [localism, personal-networking/community, neighborhood] are well suited to traditional forms. As well as the [albeit often absurd] quest for “authenticity” – where anything Old has an advantage.

          Just yesterday I was listening to a Catholic priest talking about organizing local-food events, and tours for people coming into town to see the culinary high-points. Want to tour the city – contact the local Catholic church, they’ll help you out. And in Catholicism nothing feels odd about this.

          During my days in Evangelicalism some people wanted to use the church property to fly kites on a weekend. The question was, in addition to liability concerns [groan!], if that activity promoted Christ…. more groans. They want to fly kites for crying out loud; just let them – I lost, they were denied.

          A Catholic priest is on the cities transportation advisory committee, and nobody seems thinks that is odd. Transportation issues plague the poor and the elderly, so, there he is.

          This certainly, at least, breeds much more good will and familiarity.

          • World-affirming theology vs. world-denying theology in a nutshell.

          • Yes, but despite having such a world-affirming theology as described, plus a long history of cultural involvement in many places, the RCC in Europe, even in Italy itself, is an institution losing its grip, and largely unimportant and irrelevant to most people living there.

            • Yes but the Europeans have much different cultures and experiences. It’s my contention that two world wars, for example, beat the religion right out of much of Europe

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            I agree; I do not think Europe is even an approximation of the United States. We have significantly different sets of cultures, different places, and histories. Watching even British and American TV one can see pronounced cultural differences; for one it is incredible how pronounced the memory of World War II is still printed on their culture whereas in the United States even more recent conflicts like Vietnam feel largely forgotten. And the influence of incoming Hispanic migrations will be significant.

          • And it’s my contention that the change in American sexual mores is beating the Catholicism right out of many American Catholics, who, though they by-and-large continue to identify with the institution (though there have been significant losses, mostly offset by immigration from traditionally Catholic nations), have undertaken an inner immigration into the psychology of Protestant denominationalism, softening the traditional contours of the American RCC from inside, and from the pews.

          • “And the influence of incoming Hispanic migrations will be significant.”

            Not unless two things happen: they continue to have the same numbers of kids that they did in the old country, and their kids remain in the RCC. If the consumerist social model that currently dominates the US continues, it’s unlikely that either will happen; if the model changes significantly, then all bets are off, for churches of every stripe, and for everybody else, too.

        • Oh, there’s no doubt that the international RCC will survive and be largely unaffected by changes in American society; but the same could be said about international evangelicalism. The issue for us is how widespread social change will affect American churches, Catholic, mainline and evangelical, and there survivability in an altered situation. I don’t think it is unwise to look to Europe for the direction we can expect the American scene to take in the next 50 years, and in Europe, all churches, including the RCC, have been affected in big ways.

          You know, it’s not impossible that, under pressure of social changes here in the States, part of the American RCC may split from Rome.

          • @Robert……there are already splinter groups who consider themselves Catholic, on both ends of the political and theological spectrum (“Wymyn” Priests to Old Order Latin Mass traditionalists). All have been soundly informed of their errors.

            I see a greater split….not from the RCC, but from general society. It is looking more and more like the days of the early Church, when one could not really be part of society and part of the Body of Christ. People will have to decide if they are willing to endure the labeling and name calling and being part of the “other” in the USA to be faithful to the teachings of Christ. I see a MUCH smaller but also much more devout and centered RCC in this country.

        • If current trends continue in the US, we are moving toward post-Evangelicalism because we are moving deeper into a post-Christian culture, perhaps not for the same reasons that Europe has, but for our own set of reasons grounded in a culture of consumerism, and the identification of the self as consumer. If current trends do not continue, then the story may be very different, but it’s unlikely that it’s a story that any of us can foresee.

          We Christians in the U.S., whether RCC, mainline or Evangelical, should reconcile ourselves to the likelihood of existing as a minority group (or minority groups) in a post-Christian society.

          • Christiane says:

            thing is, was it ever REALLY a ‘Christian society’ ?

            reasons for asking that ? Let the litany begin . . . 🙂

          • TRUE!!! Robert, it was “easy” to be at least nominally Christian when all of your neighbors shared most of your values and beliefs. Now, to be Christian will mean being out on a limb and scorned….again. This might not be a bad thing, as it separates those who follow Christ from those who like a convenient sense of belonging.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I did say “This is going to effect everything, everywhere:. 🙂 Prognosticating where this will`end` is a dicey business. But established powers always have the upper hand, so counting them out is often either wishful or paranoid thinking. As always the specter of the Black Swan looms over all such predictions.

        I’ve heard and read some well-informed carefully considered theories on what-is-coming. But none of those are especially on-topic for religion/evangalicalism. Except that they will be second-fiddle players in these changes [Evangelicalism has made itself a servant of greater masters – which is one reason why I believe it will survive – it is useful to keep it around, therefore cash will arrive].

    • At least three large church buildings in my neighborhood or adjacent neighborhoods have very recently been converted into apartment buildings. That might be evidence for your prediction.

      It depends on whether the congregation went belly up or sold it for greener pastures.

      Aside: does someone really want a stained glass window depicting a religious scene over their bed? They leave most of the “historic” church architecture intact. To me that is just creepy.

      I’ve always wanted to live in a haunted house. Especially if it had a pipe organ I could practice my minor key Bach Fugues on.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on – two years ago on
        Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
        Restaurant, but Alice doesn’t live in the restaurant, she lives in the
        Church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and
        Fasha the dog. And livin’ in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of
        Room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin’ all that room,
        Seein’ as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn’t
        Have to take out their garbage for a long time.

        • …which also happens to be the first song I ever learned on guitar. 😀

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          One of those churches is only a few blocks from a newly opened butcher shop [which is awesome, BTW, having a real butcher shop within walking distance]. Fasha could finally get his dream job, without even having to leave home.

          And the buffalo chicken and blue cheese sausages are amazing!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant…”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > It depends on whether the congregation went belly up or sold it for greener pastures.

        Two of the three are gone gone, both Lutheran of some stripe or another.

        The third was an Assembly Of God church. They downgraded to a smaller facility [bought another church that was empty] and paid off all their debt – their old/previous church was a big building in what is now an intensely popular neighborhood [some rate is as nationally #1] for people who want family-friendly urban space. They got a pile of money for it. So I’m not sure if that fits the mold of decline, necessarily – the congregation may be healthier for the change.

    • “Aside: does someone really want a stained glass window depicting a religious scene over their bed? They leave most of the “historic” church architecture intact. To me that is just creepy.”

      Back in the late 80’s or early 90’s, a large, cathedral-like Episcopal church in Manhattan, NYC, was decommissioned, sold, and turned by its new owners into a disco. The stained glass windows, and all the other Gothic architectural themes and features, gazed down upon revelers, who were dancing and doing who-knows-what else in the wild New York night.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        So that’s where that Steve Taylor song came from!

      • cermak_rd says:

        There’s a restaurant in San Diego called The Abbey that I believe is a former church. It has stained windows. I mean, regardless of what is being portrayed it’s pretty art. My house has stained glass window in the living room (an art deco style rose) as it’s a common embellishment around here. The house came with them and I’ve never bothered to change them out because it looks fine to me (my partner is the aesthetic one. so he must like them, too).

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          Here in Louisville we have Holy Grale – a former unitarian church that is now a craft bar. The men’s restroom is covered with last supper scenes, including Black Jesus and holographic Jesus. The beer is fantastic, and they have some mouth-watering “small fare” food. I was there two weekends ago, and saw CJ Mahaney there.

  9. I suppose every age and culture, ours included, is interested in perpetuating and understanding itself to a microscopic fault because — keep it simple, stupid — it’s the only age they/we have, but the last 5 or 10 years or even 40 years is only a blip on the radar of Almighty God (who sees the big picture from beginning to end — and we don’t). It is His plan, after all — not Jerry Falwell’s, not Michael Spencer’s, and not ours – that will last.

    All this self-examination reminds me of the scene in The Last Emperor where the feces of the young emperor of China is thoroughly examined in the hope of finding gold.

    As in the movie, it’s the premise that’s wrong. Evangelicalism is not the answer. The answer is the Gospel, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.

    Sorry if I’m mouthing platitudes, but I believe this with every fiber of my being.

    • Bob, of course this is an important bigger perspective you give. In the article, Michael says: “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.” You are right to remind us that we are not talking about ultimate issues here. Nevertheless, the historical form, shape, and health of evangelicalism is a primary theme on this blog, and is not unimportant.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The kind of “Eschatological Optimism” I experienced during my time in-country (Left Behind Fever – Any Minute Now) SHOULD be lost.

        • HUG, that’s eschatological pessimism, or “It’s all gonna burn, baby.” Optimism believes it won’t burn, so we had better start improving it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But what you’re mouthing sounds exactly like what the Evangelicals have been mouthing as far back as I can remember, back during the Age of Hal Lindsay when the Bible had only 3 1/2 books. Including the repeating buzzword of “Scrptures, Scriptures, Scriptures” (i.e. “It Is Written! It Is Written! It Is Written!”). These are the same words, phrases, and platitudes that burned us out — how are they any different when you say them?

      • What I find ironic is how Spencer’s predictions are being tossed about and debated with the serious tones of fundegelicals discussing views on End Times scenarios and how they relate to Biblical prophecy. There’s a comic aspect to it. He was just one guy with a viewpoint, however intelligent or perceptive, after all.

      • HUG @ 9:02 am, just to be clear, your comment decrying “the repeating buzzword of “Scriptures, Scriptures, Scriptures” is not directed at me, it’s directed at St. Paul who wrote the verse I quoted in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. (Translation: Don’t throw the baby of truth out with the bathwater of phrases and platitudes. I’m just sayin’…. )

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      All this self-examination reminds me of the scene in The Last Emperor where the feces of the young emperor of China is thoroughly examined in the hope of finding gold.

      I’m surprised the Signs & Wonders crowd hasn’t tried that.
      “ANGELS! ANGELS! ANGELS!”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > even 40 years is only a blip on the radar of Almighty God (who sees the big
      > picture from beginning to end — and we don’t

      Exactly, and…. ? Sorry, I live here in this scant ~40-80 year time window. God can tend to his vast field. I have to tend to my little field. A step in that tending is examination.

      > Evangelicalism is not the answer. The answer is the Gospel,

      This is a cop out. Whose and which Gospel? What is “good news” depends on what the problem is, or what you believe the problem is. This sounds like just yet another tribal battle cry. We need a church, a community, and a place discussion and disagreements; a full fleshed out life. It is tedious and complicated – and it is those things when it is at its best.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “The answer is the Gospel” is doubleplusduckspeak. Just take a look at Wartburg Watch’s archives for accounts & examples of how “Gospel” and “Gospelly” have become empty buzzwords. Or maybe just a Brand(TM) Name(TM). In either case, IT’S BECOME A RUNNING JOKE. Screwtape Semantics at its finest.

        Like that Sunday School story where “whatever the question on the test, answer JESUS.” You could program a soundboard to ace that test.

  10. Fitting that this came out on the same day. Surprisingly respectful article.

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-bizarre-parts-christianity-that-are-going-away-forever/

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Ah, Cracked dot com. Great place to time-warp away twelve hours without noticing.

      I see Cracked got the Chick tracts and the Cheezy Christianese T-shirt knockoffs. But their Number One about the “good old days” of small-press Christian records was just WILD and CRAZY as well as Painful. The obsession with puppets on audio-only (I remember one with animal puppets going “We don’t have souls but we still love JEESUS!”), climaxing in the tale of Big Marcy and LIttle Marcy. “Big” Marcy was a woman whose singing voice was very childlike and high-pitched; Little Marcy was the ventriloquist vent figure (puppet) she sang through. And Cracked shows album cover after album cover with a progression of Big Marcy fading into the background while Little Marcy gets top billing until only Little Marcy is left to “sing for Jesus”. I kept thinking of the Tragedian from The Great Divorce….

  11. Richard Hershberger says:

    We currently are seeing attendance numbers in Evangelical churches flat at best, or in shallow decline. This clearly is the early stage of something, but what? It could be a momentary pause in the march to global domination. I see no indication of this, but I mention the possibility for the sake of completeness. It could be that Evangelicalism has plateaued: that percentage of the population which might be interested is in the fold, and what comes next is a long period of zero growth, but stable numbers. This also seems to me unlikely, as we are also seeing an aging attendance with the kids wandering off. So this leaves decline as the possibility. But does decline mean collapse?

    A look at the history of the mainlines might be helpful. Fifty years ago there was a default cultural assumption that respectable middle or upper class people would have some ties to a church. This was never universal, of course, but it was the norm. Furthermore, the church would, for the default “non-ethnic” white American, be a mainline Protestant church of one denomination or another. Again, this was not universal, and in reality the Catholics had a huge percentage of the population, but it was the default expectation.

    Then the mainlines went into a long-term decline. Some members switched to Evangelical churches. Some wandered away entirely. And many stayed put, of course. The mainlines didn’t disappear. They just got smaller. While overall this was (or was seen as) a bad thing for the mainlines, it did have a beneficial side effect. People belong to churches for many reasons: some good, some bad, many indifferent. A classic example is the trend from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century of families on the social and financial rise converting to Episcopalianism. This wasn’t due to any newfound convictions favoring Episcopalian doctrine. It was all about social prestige and networking. Many others in the various denominations were there due to cultural expectations: this was something that respectable people of their social class did, if only to fit in. Those people have all long since gone elsewhere. The members who stuck with their mainline churches at this point have mostly done so out of conscious decision. This isn’t to say that their reasons are all good, but many of the bad reasons to go to a church no longer apply to the mainlines.

    Another factor to the long-term survival of the mainlines is a strong tradition of sound financial policies. In many cases the individual church has been around for the long haul, and even in newer churches the expectation and intention is that it will continue to exist over the long haul. At my church, a bit over a quarter millennium old, it is in our blood that any major financial decision is made looking fifty or a hundred years down the road. This isn’t anything we have to talk about: it is understood. Sound finances gives a church a cushion that can last for decades. The result is that many mainlines have uncomfortably large spaces for the number of worshipers, but the doors can be kept open nonetheless.

    What I see when I look at Evangelicalism today looks to me like the mainlines fifty years ago. The future is that the membership is going to decline, potentially leveling off with smaller but more dedicated population. What I wonder about is the financial ability to cope with this. The past ten or twenty years have seen the megachurches growing at the expense of the smaller Evangelical churches. My understanding is that this growth has been financed by borrowing against expected future growth. Borrowing against expected future revenue is perfectly reasonable. That’s why we borrow in the first place, rather than spending cash in hand. But borrowing against expected future growth only works until it doesn’t, and when that point comes things get ugly fast. In other words, grow or die. (Come to think of it, this might be a good way to distinguish between a megachurch and a church that happens to be large.) So the potential for collapse I see is that the megachurch financial model will collapse. This is even apart from any discussion of churches with closed books and poor financial controls, which will inevitably turn out poorly, probably in the short run but if not, then in the long run.

    The final question is if the smaller Evangelical churches will be able to pick up from the megachurch collapse, or if they will have been too weakened by then. This I leave as an exercise for the reader.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      This isn’t to say that their reasons are all good, but many of the bad reasons to go to a church no longer apply to the mainlines.

      They now increasingly apply to the Megas.

      My understanding is that this growth has been financed by borrowing against expected future growth. Borrowing against expected future revenue is perfectly reasonable. That’s why we borrow in the first place, rather than spending cash in hand. But borrowing against expected future growth only works until it doesn’t, and when that point comes things get ugly fast.

      Anyone remember the Housing Bubble from a few years ago?
      Property values had Nowhere to go but UP UP UP!
      Forever!
      Start flipping NOW or be priced out!
      Forever!
      Don’t be Left Behind!

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        >>This isn’t to say that their reasons are all good, but many of the bad reasons to go to a church no longer
        >> apply to the mainlines.

        > They now increasingly apply to the Megas.

        My point is that they did twenty years ago. If you felt a vague urge to do something “churchy” then a megachurch was a good choice. Similarly if you wanted to pick a church simply to fit in with your neighborhood. Similarly if you wanted to pick a church to network for business contacts. Similarly if you wanted to pick a church to find easy pickings for a grift. Fifty years ago you would have picked a suitable mainline. Then the shift away from the mainlines occurred, replaced by Evangelical churches in general, and megachurches in particular. My argument is that we are seeing a similar shift away from the Evangelical churches.

        Viewing the church as a community of Christians, losing these people ranges from pretty much neutral to a positive good. Financially, it is a different matter. The person seeking business contacts might well be a substantial (and conspicuous) contributor, regarding the contributions as part of his marketing budget.

  12. “5. 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.”
    I just saw “God loves Uganda” pop up under Netflix’s recommendations for me – a documentary about those insidious evangelicals caring for, adopting, and (insert scary music) indoctrinating Ugandan children.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Said insidious evangelicals couldn’t win the Culture War here in America, so they took a tip from Scientology’s Sea Org Cruise days: “Clear” some Third World country, then expand from there.

    • Uh huh. What is it about adopting Ugandan children* that *requires* you to propound anti-gay laws? Because you can do the former without the latter, y’know. It’s possible. I have confidence in you: You can probably manage it if you try just a little.

      *You do know that many of these ‘orphans’ actually have families, right? Families trying to get one’s children a better life in the west by putting them forward as ‘orphans’ has become a major problem in places like Southeast Asia and central Africa.

  13. In the vein of predicting the future:

    By Charles Taylor….

    “In societies where the general equilibrium point is firmly within immanence, where many people even have trouble understanding how a sane person could believe in God….the dominant secularization narrative, which tends to blame our religious past for many of the woes of our world, will become less plausible over time. This is in part because we’ll see ‘other societies are not following suit'”. However, there will be internal pressures as well, which lead to his second prediction.

    “At the same time, this heavy concentration of the atmosphere of immanence will intensify a sense of living in a ‘waste land’ for subsequent generations, and many young people will begin again to explore beyond the boundaries of a closed take”.

    By James K A Smith

    “Those individuals who have been raised and shaped by forms of Christianity that are roughly fundamentalist will
    either
    1. ….under the guise of emerging church or progressive evangelicalism, be set on a path similar to something like Protestant liberalism, a new deism…….or
    2. Recognize the disenchantment and excarnation of evangelical Protestantism”.

    Excarnation: the process by which Christianity is disembodied and de-ritualized, turned into a belief system.

  14. This is what happens when you fight the culture war: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/08/11/ohio-strippers-take-topless-protest-to-church-that-harassed-them-as-whores-tramps-for-nine-years/

    A church in Ohio has been protesting the local topless strip club for years, harassing the customers and the girls at the club. The owner of the club staged a protest, complete with topless dancers, outside of the church during service on Sunday morning. The pastor defended the church’s actions, saying it is the responsibility of the church to share the Gospel, lift up the name of Christ and “confront evil.” He says the Foxhole has “no business in the community.”

    There are enough members of the community visiting the establishment and spending money that it stays in business. The church congregation does not represent the whole community or there would be no business for the Foxhole to have. People in the church should expect the world to act like the world. Shutting down the club would do nothing to make the former customers conformed to the image of Christ. Imposing a list of “shall” and “shall not” behavior does not make people righteous.

    I hate to use the cliche but I’m trying to think what Jesus would do in this case. I don’t think going down to the local strip club and calling the girls whores would be it.

    • Props to the club owner and the girls who protested. Even though it’s used as a rhetorical tool to beat down men, these are all someone’s daughters (and sons), and probably grew up in the church as well. You’d think that’d change how believers interacted and responded to them, but I guess not.

      And more than likely, I bet some of those girls know the scriptures better than the church goers.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      From what we know of him, he might well have gone to the club…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Imposing a list of “shall” and “shall not” behavior does not make people righteous.

      But it lets those imposing the list feel Righteous, and that’s what’s important.

      “I THANK THEE, LOORD, THAT *I* AM NOTHING LIKE THAT STRIPPER OVER THERE…”

      P.S. How many of the strip joint’s customers were members of that church going incognito?

  15. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    I don’t think “collapse” is the best word, and I’m not convinced that Michael’s predictions are anything like what we will see in the future. I say this on the basis of what we observed in 2000-2010. We saw:
    1) The emerge* movement come and go.
    2) A vast swath of historically Arminian or Mollenist or “we don’t knowist” churches start spreading Calvinism.
    3) A vast backlash against stealth calvinism.
    4) The consolidation of churches into megas.
    5) The rise of internet and digital influence.

    What these things show us is that evangelicalism is constantly changing. I dare say that in many places the white-picket-fence evangelicalism of the 1950s is long dead. In fact, the local mega doesn’t have any of the features of evangelicalism that Roger Olsen recently regretted as missing from many churches today.

    So I think we will continue to see an evolution of the movement, with the focus being primarily on consolidating numbers and basically wealth, although it will probably be cloaked in religious language.

    • Agreed. Except that, as long as current trends continue, Americans continue to become less and less affiliated to religious institutions, and there will be further and further movement into post-Christian culture (not that America was every truly Christian, but most Americans self-identified as such).

    • consolidating numbers and basically wealth, although it will probably be cloaked in religious language.

      What I like to call “soteriological utilitarianism.” If it gets more customers, I mean, potential future church members, I mean, believers, in the door, then to resist it is to resist God. It is the rally cry of the church growth movement, which has fine tuned the art of the big box shutting down the mom and pop shops.

      I’m not opposed to big business: sometimes the mom and pop shops legitimately can’t compete and need to up their game. I do have a problem with running the church like an enterprise. We should be working together, not competing with one another.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        What I like to call “soteriological utilitarianism.” If it gets more customers, I mean, potential future church members, I mean, believers, in the door, then to resist it is to resist God.

        Butts in Seats spending Money.
        Just like all those pro wrestling gimmicks chronicled at Wrestlecrap.com.

    • “3) A vast backlash against stealth calvinism.”

      I’m not aware of any backlash against Calvinism. I understand that there’s a heap of criticism tossed against some prominent Calvinists (some of whom I may not defend), but as a particular doctrinal perspective I’m not aware of any such thing.

      There’s a book you should read, “Ten Myths About Calvinism (http://www.amazon.com/Ten-Myths-About-Calvinism-Recovering/dp/0830838988/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1407803487&sr=8-1). In the book the author, Kenneth J. Stewart, “…identifies ten myths held by either or both Calvinists and non-Calvinists and shows how they are gross mischaracterizations of that theological stream.”

      I read this book about a year ago, It is informative, accurate, well-written, and a fairly easy read. In it Stewart shows how Calvinism comes in waves, the latest one starting sometime in the late nineties. It will wane, perhaps already is, but will return.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        If you are not aware of the HUGE backlash against stealth Calvinism, you might want to troll the blogs one weekend. It is pretty extensive, although, to be fair, it is less a backlash against Calvinism, and more a backlash against the stealth part. Sad to say that during my extensive Calvinist phase I was involved in some stealthism.

        • Yes, I’m aware of the anti-Calvinist blog trolls, and frankly, I have more important–and desirable–things to do than read that stuff. It will not change my mind and I will not change theirs by responding to it.

          You may already know this, but in case you do not, here goes… In the middle of the 19th century there was a backlash against Calvinism, particularly in England. C.H. Spurgeon, a defender of Calvinism, stated that Calvinism was waning, something which he lamented but did not phase his convictions one bit. BTW, if anyone doubts his commitment to Calvinism they should read his “A Defense of Calvinism” (http://www.amazon.com/Defence-Calvinism-Charles-Haddon-Spurgeon/dp/0851519733/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1407810928&sr=8-1).

          But as I wrote previously, it made a comeback, waned again, made a comeback, waned again, … and will continue to ebb & flow, I suppose, until the Lord returns.

          So, let the trolls say what they wish; that’s what trolls do. In the end it will have no effect.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            Which sort of hasn’t got to do with my point, which is that evangelicalism is extremely plastic.

          • Yes, I understand that. I was addressing your comment about a backlash against Calvinism.

            You also mentioned that it was more of a backlash against stealth Calvinism. I’m afraid I don’t fully understand what you mean by that term. Perhaps I could address it if you would clarify it some.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            I would also add that folks like Jonathan Merritt, Warren Throckmorton, Roger Olsen, and Wade Burleson (who is a Calvinist Baptist) can hardly be dismissed as “trolls”. Which would explain why the SBC had to commission a panel to discuss the grievances against stealth calvinism among other things.

  16. “The Coming Evangelical Decline” maybe. But “The Coming Evangelical Collapse?” Over dramatic. That Evangelicalism will run the same course as every other Christian movement in history (rise, peak, decline, and level out) seems to me to be an expected pattern and so qualifies as non-news. Thought MS does get points for recognizing the timing of Evangelicalism’s decline.

    • “Thought” should be “Though”

    • I dunno. If you follow the money, there’s got to be some significant shuffling and consolidation going on here pretty soon. Sure, the ship won’t sink, but it will be a ship with significantly deteriorated market share. How significant is something nobody can really call, but I do believe it will take a generation or two for the full impact of the changes to bear out. Another force that must be reckoned with is the mini-Christendom of the Bible belt South is becoming a cultural relic of the past. Mark my words, a time is coming when people will no longer believe they are Christian simply because they live in Texas.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > If you follow the money, there’s got to be some significant shuffling and
        > consolidation going on here pretty soon

        Agree, there will be a tremendous decline of many institutions in the near-ish future. Large demographic changes and economic mode shifts inevitably effect where the money flows.

        But will it be a collapse for Evangelical institutions? I doubt it; they are too important to too many people – some of which have extremely deep pockets. And how much to many of these institutions cost to run? I’d wager they are pretty cheap.

      • I’m not saying it isn’t significant, it just isn’t a “collapse.” It’s a normal cycle. Did the Roman Church collapse? Did the Mainlines collapse? Even looking at movements like the Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, etc. they all had their heyday when they were on top of the world (or at least America) but then they declined and settled into their place in the Christian mosaic. Modern Evangelicalism is no different. Many movements are actually better after their decline because with success and power come excesses and sin. I suspect modern Evangelicalism will be the same. I also suspect there is more than a hint of “I can’t wait till they get theirs” in many of the comments here.

  17. cermak_rd says:

    I actually think Evangelicalism will do better than other brands of Christianity. Why?

    1. low overhead. A guy (or gal) can start a church in their house and expand from there with no need for a heavy bureaucracy involving Bishops or denominational headquarters. This also involves the fact that churches aren’t required to have vestries etc. so that they gal (or guy) who started it can maintain control of his/her church.

    2. because there is no need for a priest or mediator, people can even cut out the church middleman and meet in homes for services without having to pay a preacher or on a mortgage for a church.

    3. no apostolic succession means even if the church dies out completely, if someone finds the Scriptures and starts practicing Christianity, it can all start up again.

    4. The evangelical culture is malleable. If you don’t want to preach on culture war issues ,you don’t have to. I mean, Osteen is not known as a culture warrior.

    5. I think youth could be attracted to evangelical services if they were made useful. I’ve seen signs up advertising a new Church plant that advertises itself as being youth group for adults. Given how fondly some of my former Christian friends remember their youth groups and service projects, this might just resonate; and if this doesn’t maybe something else will. Without having a set in stone understanding of just what a service is (like the GIRM), the evangelical movement has the flexibility to find what will work.

    • cermak_rd,

      Your five points essentially highlight the difference between historical evangelical “belief” and current evangelical practice [which essentially is evangelicalism].

      1. Evangelicalism relies on high overhead, micro-managed bureaucracy of pastor/elder/deacon board hierarchy. Historical evangelical belief doesn’t.

      2. Evangelicalism relies on Da Pastor(TM), who acts as both priest and mediator, and meets in expensive buildings paid for through the quarterly “Thou shalt tithe” sermon. Historical evangelical belief doesn’t.

      3. Evangelicalism relies on church plants authorized by Da Pastor(TM). Historical evangelical belief doesn’t. Test this out by dropping into TeamPyro and announcing that you are starting a church in your living room without authorization from a plurality of elders.

      4. Evangelicalism relies on culture war issues. Historical evangelical belief doesn’t.

      5. Evangelicalism relies on the non-participatory nature of laity. Historical evangelical belief doesn’t.

      I suggest revising the opening statement to, “those who hold to historical evangelical beliefs will do better than other brands of Christianity.” They will do better precisely because they will abandon the problems that Spencer writes about, things that have very little to do with core beliefs of traditional Protestants.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > 1. Evangelicalism relies on high overhead,… Historical evangelical belief doesn’t.

        Fundamentalism / Evangelicalism in America has always been preacher/personality focused, all the way back to the colonies. I don’t see a change.

        > 4. Evangelicalism relies on culture war issues. Historical evangelical belief doesn’t.

        Meh. Historically, in America at least, the common morals expressed vocally by the masses were mostly inline with Evangelical morals. Very few publicly challenged them. Hence no culture wars.

        When people started to challenge them, the wars commenced.

        • > Fundamentalism / Evangelicalism in America has always been preacher/personality focused, all the way back to the colonies. I don’t see a change.

          Yes, I completely agree with you. BUT, they TEACH the opposite. That’s why I stressed belief vs practice. If people follow the belief rather than the practice, then cermak_rd has valid points.

    • *The evangelical culture is malleable. If you don’t want to preach on culture war issues ,you don’t have to.*

      Really? ‘Cause this *really* seems like a non-negotiable element to it. Anyone who breaks orthodoxy on gay rights or women’s rights or Israel or evolutionary biology or guns or, it seems, about 5 new dealbreaker issues each week, seems to get ‘farewell’d’ VERY quickly.

      Or have I misunderstood you here? Are you saying that you can say *nothing* as regards culture war sh*t or you can say something affirmatively pro-GOP, but you cannot be a liberal?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Really? ‘Cause this *really* seems like a non-negotiable element to it.

        +1

        ” Anyone who breaks orthodoxy on gay rights….” will be out, as will anyone who even says “I don’t much care about these issues. I certainly don’t want to fight about them”

  18. I have not read all the posts, but plan to do so, they sound interesting. I will read the book too, being a Kindle addict. My naive question is “what are these vast and wide ranging cultural changes destroying evangelicalism?” I have belonged to several churches in my lifetime; Methodist (Holiness), Presbyterian and Lutheran (baptized)’ and now am back in my old home town in my original Methodist church which is exactly the same except they have dropped the Holiness part (2nd blessing, which never did go over too well with many–too hard to get.) Technology, of course, has enabled the spread of the Gospel, that is a good thing, whether or not is is happening. Is it all about sexual mores? Is there anything happening today, other than transgender surgery, that hasn’t always happened? Oops forgot about gay marriage, a very tiny percent of marriages I am sure, but there is nothing new about homosexuality. The big difference is that with technology everybody hears about these things and maybe, instead of worshipping and trusting Christ we get into a lather these issues, mustn’t forget capitalism a d socialism. I read that the SBC had as their main theme, in N.C. recently, “transgenderism.” Evidently feeling it and of course having the surgery. I can only pity these leaders. “Jesus, keep me near the cross.”