October 19, 2017

Rachel Held Evans on Evangelicalism’s Future

By Chaplain Mike

There is no doubt that Christianity is undergoing a sea change. The recent and ongoing rhubarb over Rob Bell is yet another example of evangelicalism’s identity crisis.

In a few weeks, we here at Internet Monk will be reviewing Michael Spencer’s classic series of articles on, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” I encourage you to go back and read through these insightful posts in preparation for the discussion to come.

In the meantime, conversations continue all over the web. Last week we pointed you to Jimmy Spencer’s sense that a split in the evangelical movement is imminent, and Jonathan Fitzgerald’s counter that evangelicalism is in an ongoing state of erosion, not schism. Scot McKnight raised the question of a potential major split at his blog and pointed to some of the ways people are answering that question. From the New Reformed perspective, Kevin DeYoung suggests that these kinds of doctrinal disputes probably won’t divide evangelicalism, but may prove that we are already divided.

Rachel Held Evans has offered her perspective in a post called, “The Future of Evangelicalism—A Twenty-Something’s Perspective.” I encourage you to go to her blog and read the entire article.

Then come back and we will discuss her predictions, which I’ve included below.

So my first prediction is that in the next few years the evangelical community will engage in a serious conversation about the Bible. And I suspect that that will be the tipping point McKnight asks about. Let’s pray that this conversation will be as civil and as loving as possible.

My second prediction is that the so-called “new evangelicals” will in large part drop the evangelical label. We don’t like labels to begin with, and evangelicalism already carries a lot of political and theological baggage. Some will head to mainline churches, others will rediscover the rich history of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and some will leave Christianity altogether. Still others will remain evangelical in spirit, but without the label—opting instead for “non-denominational” or simply “follower of Jesus.”

My third prediction is that the word “evangelical” will go the way of “fundamentalism” as its adherents become increasingly homogonous and as the word becomes associated with dogmatism regarding politics, science, women’s roles, homosexuality, salvation, and biblical literalism.

THAT IS UNLESS my generation—both Reformed and emerging/progressive evangelicals—decide to intentionally preserve the diversity of our tradition, stop launching personal attacks, and move forward together. …

I haven’t lost hope in the future of evangelicalism, but I’ve lost the desire to fight for my place in it. I’m tired of trying to convince other Christians that I am a Christian. As Dan and I enter that stage of life when we will likely start a family, we want to raise our kids in a community of Christ-followers where diversity is celebrated, questions are welcomed, and differences are handled with love and respect…not flippant “farewells.”

We want to get busy, get our hands dirty, start serving and growing and changing the world. This may very well lead us to the mainline, or perhaps to something associated with the Anabaptist tradition, or perhaps to something very similar to evangelicalism….but without the label.

Comments

  1. “We want to get busy, get our hands dirty, start serving and growing and changing the world. This may very well lead us to the mainline, or perhaps to something associated with the Anabaptist tradition, or perhaps to something very similar to evangelicalism….but without the label.”

    Too bad it doesn’t lead them to an abandoning of all the ‘internalizing of the Word’, and a greater understanding (and trust therein) of the external promises of Word and Sacrament.

    That would be real progress.

  2. “I haven’t lost hope in the future of evangelicalism, but I’ve lost the desire to fight for my place in it. I’m tired of trying to convince other Christians that I am a Christian. ”

    This is my conclusion. I am bored and tired of people who know nothing about historical Christianity question whether I am a Christian.

    I am most worried by the bigger problem which is a side effect of the confusion. That is, the primacy of the local pastor. A local pastor reads Bell’s book, or goes to a conference, or listens to a Piper sermon….then returns and decides to change the direction of “his” local church. One group leaves, another group comes in….. I am tired of the merry-go-round. I got off.

    At least at an old mainline denomination the pastor doesn’t have the authority to radically change the direction of the local church.

    • At least at an old mainline denomination the pastor doesn’t have the authority to radically change the direction of the local church.

      The same holds true of many Evangelical denominations as well. Many have a hierarchy that provides checks and balances on the Pastor.

  3. This hit home for me as a person who grew up Evangelical but simply cannot claim that label any more. The beginning of the end probably came when I decided to go to Oberlin rather than Wheaton. I went on the tour and learned about the pledge of no smoking, no dancing, no sex, and the tour guide said, “Not that we think there’s anything wrong with dancing; it’s just tradition.” I also encountered too many people on that brief visit who reminded me of folks I knew from Christian camp–happy shiny people who were putting on a “Christian” front. So I went to Oberlin, which was the best possible place for me in terms of my faith. But it also meant the end of my Evangelical faith. At least as a label. I know I would be labeled a “liberal,” but I don’t much like that either. Ah well. Mostly I feel fringe-y. And I’ll say again that this is a great place for me as a piece of the fringe.

    At any rate, I wish Evans well. I understand giving up that fight to be in the choir very well.

  4. I like to read Rachel Evan’s blog as I hover around there as well. There are a lot of good blogs on this topic…

    I really think evangelical Christinaity is on its downward spirial, and I wish that weren’t the case but as it happens I think many fundegeliclas and their leaders have sadly brought it upon themself. The political invovlement was been discussed so I will stay away from it here. One thing that happened which bothered me is how the “leaders” of evangelicalism, John Piper, Albert Mohler, etc.. became the “leaders”. When I was a fundegelical who made John Piper my leader? Why was he the single go to, end all, final authority for everything? I had situations where people would tell me, “for an answer on xyz go to Desiringgod.org”. It was kind of like John MacArthur who many fundegelcials also hold in high esteem who I choked on as well. But truth be told I read more of Piper than I did MacArthur.

    But with that the lack of any type of leadership system and the bouncing around between theologies is just too much. I think evangelicalsim is on its decline and that’s it approach is more like a “scorched earth policy” poeple go in, get harmed, and leave. They become agnostics like me frustrated and angry over their loss of faith, or they take a vacation and try to do it spiritualy alone. Some go to the historical mainstream Protestants or back to the Catholic church. I think one of the key indiactors on this is the turn over of the back door at many large “fundegelical” megachurches. I wonder what their retention rate is…especially when people are getting burned by the “Piperesque” theology system.

    Okay off to bed I need to work tonight!! 🙂

    • oops sorry about the typos guys…( blushing)

    • Yeah, I kind of have that problem with some of the folks I know. Piper becomes the be-all and end-all for all things theological. I do not doubt his personal devotion to Christ or sincerity of heart. But I cannot stand the “fanboy” attitudes of some of his followers. The ironic thing is, many of these same folks would probably criticize the Catholics for their alleigiance to the Pope, or other segements of evangelicalism for following after a particular leader. Yet they don’t seem to realize the irony in doing so themselves.

  5. I think most of Evans’ predictions will come to pass because I already see things heading in that direction. The only one I have doubts about is a serious conversation about the Bible. I see that happening in isolated places but not on a broad scale. There are simply too many who will dismiss others at the slightest hint of disagreement, and much as I wish that would change, it probably won’t.

    I haven’t lost hope in the future of evangelicalism, but I’ve lost the desire to fight for my place in it

    That’s about where I am. I’ve grown tired of all the gunk of evangelicalism and its culture that has nothing to do with Jesus. Would love to find somewhere genuine to fit in but for now remain on the fringes.

  6. Well, since I am confident that Christ’s work will continue regardless, I guess “good riddance” would be my response to the change / demise of evangelicalism as we know it.

    I don’t have a “twenty-somethings” point of view, nor do I want to disparage the energy and enthusiasm of youth, but I’ve seen enough youthful energy smashed on the rocks of reality to caution against too much optimism. I wish Rachel luck. We need people like her that fight to change the world and don’t get too discouraged when all they succeed in changing is themselves.

  7. I found the Gerald McDermott article in First Things, “Evangelicals Divided”, a very interesting read- including the comments. He describes the divide as a:

    “…division between new opposing camps we may call the Meliorists and the Traditionists. The former think we must improve and sometimes change substantially the tradition of historic orthodoxy. The latter think that while we might sometimes need to adjust our approaches to the tradition, generally we ought to learn from it rather than change it.”

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/03/evangelicals-divided

    • That reminds me of this quote from a different writer in a different time. Not precisely the same but…

      I believe what really happens in history is this:
      the old man is always wrong; and the young people
      are always wrong about what is wrong with him.
      The practical form it takes is this: that,
      while the old man may stand by some stupid custom,
      the young man always attacks it with some theory
      that turns out to be equally stupid. – G.K. Chesterton

  8. David Cornwell says:

    After graduating from college I went to a fairly liberal seminary in a large city . I loved it there, but left at the end of the year to get married, and then took secular employment. This was in the early days of Christianity Today and Fuller Seminary and like minded folks. I became known as one of the campus evangelicals and then it was something one could be with a certain amount of pride. However I was never exclusionary in my faith, and the other students knew that. Several years later when I finally finished seminary and became the pastor, of a mainline church, the term “evangelical” was taking a bad turn, especially in public perception. People and churches I considered fundamentalist, started to call themselves evanglical. The narrow and prejudicial interpretations of almost everything damaged my perception of the catholicity of the church, and I began to want nothing to do with the label. Over time “evangelical” has accumulated baggage. My pastor recently said to me, “You know I’m evangelical in my heart” and I know what he means. In my heart it doesn’t carry all thatt accumulated that stuff.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Several years later when I finally finished seminary and became the pastor, of a mainline church, the term “evangelical” was taking a bad turn, especially in public perception. People and churches I considered fundamentalist, started to call themselves evanglical.

      There is only so much you can do to distance yourself from idiot boys who loudly proclaim that they’re one of you.

      And changing names doesn’t work. Nothing prevents the idiot boys from just hijacking your new name. And if you change it again, they just hijack that one, too. So that’s two or more names you can no longer use because everyone knows they just mean idiot boy. George Carlin did an entire monologue on this, from “Crippled” to “Disabled” to “Handicapped” to “Differently-Abled” to “Handi-capable”, from “Retarded” to “Mentally Challenged” to “Special(TM)”.

  9. In the midst of this, I really like John Armstrong’s call for church unity – see his blog here:

    http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com/

    and organization’s website here:

    http://www.act3online.com/

    His call for every branch of Christianity to unify, while not giving up their differences, is refreshing.

  10. From what I have read so far, I think the future of the church firmly lies in ‘none of the above.’ The problem almost everywhere we look, both in evangelicalism and out, is man-centeredness. And, where we take too much of the burden for living the Christian life upon ourselves, we get weary. But where the gospel of grace is being preached radically and proclaimed boldly, people are having their burdens lifted and cannot wait for the doors to open again to hear more. To hear more about what the Bible teaches about grace and more about the Savior, through whom grace and truth came. (John 1:17) The thing that’s different this time is that this movement is very much ‘bottom up.’ This phenomenon, sometimes called the grace revolution, is occurring within individual Christians and pastors with small churches. This falls in line with the biblcal order of things where God says:

    “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12)

    So, what seems to be happening right now is that God is implementing the new covenant (finally) and revealing it from the least to the greatest. Conversations like this leave me scratching my head sometimes. It’s as if we forgot that the gospel means ‘good news.’ Why do we care about the future of ‘movements’ and not about rediscovering and proclaiming the gospel to a lost and dying world? Maybe it’s a simple as returning to our first love? We all need to be more like Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus while Martha goes about worried and troubled about many things. Christianity still breaks down to our individual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and what we’re doing with that. Maybe we need to fret less about the future of ‘movements’ and start our own!

    • I never really encountered grace…in my case I had the whole system come down on me like a load of bricks. The “fundegelical” system was doing a lot of harm to people. I began to notice and realize that people were living dishonestly to fit into the system or hide their sins. After I was “disciplined” by some Pharises my accountability partner hid his problems with lust because in part I think he feared ending up like me. And of course this is part of the reason why I avoid Christianity like cancer, ran like hell and recoiled from the church and people who identified as being evangelical.

      • I never really encountered grace either, Eagle. At least I didn’t for 30 years and then I did. And, even then, I encountered grace through Christian tv and books and CD’s and such things. But, when we’re really struck down by grace like Saul/Paul was when he was saved, we are never the same. After I grew stronger and stronger in grace, I went to the pastoral staff of my church and shared with them what I was learning and where I thought their program varied from what the Bible teaches about grace. Needless to say, they didn’t see my point. So, I ended up leaving. But now I am sharing the grace of Christ with lots and lots of people and many seem to be blessed. It’s all informal for the time being but it might turn into more. It’s cool either way. It’s understandable that people who are abused in a church would turn away from there. There is a lot wrong with many churches but there is absolutely nothing wrong with Jesus. He died a horrible death on our behalf to pay our sin debt. I heard it said this way: “He paid a debt He did now owe because we owed a debt we could not pay.” We will never find love like that anywhere else. Praise Him!

    • Murray: “Maybe we need to fret less about the future of ‘movements’ and start our own!”

      Oh my. Have you failed to realize that this is a major part of why we’re in the mess we’re in now?

      • Since when are we not empowered to share the gospel of grace with others? Doesn’t the grace that saved us compel us to do exactly that? And, do we know how far that might go once we begin to do that? We might be used of God to start a movement of sorts and not even realize it at the beginning. That’s all I’m saying. Also, I don’t notice you ‘amening’ my comments about the need to make sure our own relationship with Christ is on solid footing. Do you not believe this is necessary? Has solidifying our own relationship with Jesus gone out of style and I didn’t get the memo? Has ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’ been written out of the Bible?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          The theoretical end state of Protestantism:

          Millons of One True Churches, each with only ONE member, each denouncing all the others as Heretics and Apostates.

          Millions of Lone Ranger Christians, each their own Movement, every one alone with their PERSONAL Lord and Savior and nobody else.

          • Maybe it’s not that way, Headless.

            Maybe it’s like this instead:

            For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. (Hebrews 8:10-11)

            Like I said, maybe God is doing something from the bottom up. It’s in the Bible that He will do that (from the least to the greatest). Maybe now is that time.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Direct proof-text quote and all.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      Christianity still breaks down to our individual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and what we’re doing with that. Maybe we need to fret less about the future of ‘movements’ and start our own!

      From an ecclesiology standpoint I find to be highly problematic. While our individual relationship with Jesus is certainly important, without a community aspect (i.e. the Church), we’re missing the entire point of the New Covenant. In your Jeremiah/Hebrews quote, notice that it says that the New Covenant will be made “with the house of Israel.” Without some sense of Ekklesia we don’t have the New Covenant. Without the Church, we don’t have Christianity.

      Ultimately, I think a lot of this boils down to an authority problem. The mentality that Christianity is ultimately just me ‘n’ Jesus is what led to these kinds of problems. Everyone doing as he pleases while claiming to be led by the Spirit is not the answer.

      There’s no way we’re going to have “none of them shall teach his neighbor, and non his brother saying ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me” situation on this side of the Eschaton. While we can see this sort of thing inaugurated now, this is part of the “not yet” of the “already-and-not-yet.”

      • Thanks for your input, Isacc/Obed. You sure know a lot of big, important sounding theological terms. I’ll look them up when I have time. Obviously, not in the Bible because they’re not in there. So, we will talk more after I get my secret theological decoder ring.

        Thanks again.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          What words were the problem? Or was this a dismissal of my point by way of pulling the theology card? I guarantee you even the “theological terms” are in the bible or are derived from biblical words.

          So by way of definition:
          Ekklesia – the Church, assembly, community of faith, etc.
          ecclesiology – theology of the Church. How the concept of Church fits into our theology
          Eschaton – The End of the Age. When God finally fixes the problem of the Fall and restores things to how they’re supposed to be.

          • Ok, if you don’t think Hebrews 8:10-11 isn’t going to be implemented until after Jesus returns, which it seems you are saying, why would it be written that it happens from the least to the greatest? And upon what is your assertion based that we’re not going to see it until then? Also, you do admit that we can see it inaugurated now and that’s all I’m really saying anyway. In general, however, I do find a good part of what you say to be inaccessible because it’s somewhat shrouded in theological terms and catch phrases that aren’t necessarily directly biblical and that may have meanings within themselves that aren’t necessarily agreed to beforehand. For example, to clear the way to actually understand each other, for my part, we would have to have to first have a whole discussion of your particular ecclesiology and also what is meant by the “not yet” of the “already-and-not-yet” and what this is based upon. Yes, I did obviously object to the way you answered me originally for these reasons.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            It won’t be implemented FULLY until Jesus returns. The easiest way to see that is the simple reality that we DO have to teach each other still. Folks DON’T automatically know him. If they did we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

            But, really, that’s more of a side issue to what I was trying to point out. The main thing is the idea of Christianity being all about our individual relationship with Jesus doesn’t hold water biblically. If the Church doesn’t fit into the equation or if it’s just an afterthought or an incidental, you’ve got a seriously gimped Christianity.

        • Murray you’ve been more than a little straightforward and opinionated here today. That’s great. Just be sure you play by the rules. You might want to read the FAQs (access at top of main page under “ABOUT IM”).

          • Sorry, Mike. I’ll do better. I’m not sure i’m a fit here anyway. There is a great awakening to what the Bible teaches about grace and it’s lighting a fire in many people, me being one. So much of Evangelicalism has been based on the antithesis of that and, as I said before, people are growing weary of the demands they feel Evangelicalism puts them under with all the inevitable hypocrisy, etc. However, if we see that God never expected us to fulfill those demands but that He fulfills them in us and through us by grace, we can live grateful and with a positive expectation of good. Paul warned us against deserting the one who called us to live in the grace of Christ to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. He also asked the Galatians if they were trying to finish with works of the flesh after having begun in the Spirit. What I mainly see in Evangelicalism is demands of the flesh to perform and not very much of the gospel of grace, or even worse, the two being unwisely mixed together. But wonderful things are happening in peoples’ lives when the preaching and teaching is putting them firmly on a foundation of grace.

            • Murray, we are all about grace. I encourage you to read Michael Spencer’s book, “Mere Churchianity,” which covers the very themes you just mentioned. You are always welcome here.

        • Murray, thanks for the attitude. You pull out a Bible verse about covenant, and then when someone else uses theological terms, you get all “Aw shucks, I’m just an ordinary guy who don’t know nothing but the plain word of the Lord”.

          Aside from the fact that if the Bible was as plain and obvious in its interpretation as you say, why then do we have all these Reform/Reformed Reform/Not that kind of Reformed, the other kind Reform/Not Reformed at all, just Bible-believing/top-down/grassroots-up/sideways, lengthways and throughways movements that you’re talking about?

          Yet one more “God may be calling us aside to dump the last thirty/fifty/five hundred/fifteen hundred years of Christianity and try One More Thing yet again”?

          Oh, and by the way, where are your personally-engraved, delivered by the Holy Ghost, truly true interpretations of the tablets of the law? Produce them, and then we can talk about what God means by (fill in the blank).

          • Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and disquieted about many things, but of one thing there is need, and Mary the good part did choose.

          • Murray, you’re getting the spill-over from me just back from a hospital appointment, in which I pinned back the ears of the consultant 🙂

            However, I’m sick to the back teeth of the ‘Just one more try and we’ll get it right this time’ attitude in religion. The young woman above has some very interesting ideas; the one that makes me go “Oh, janey mac, if that really happened, there would be wigs on the green” is her suggestion that there will be a “serious conversation about the Bible”.

            Okay, I’m neither Evangelical nor Fundamentalist (except maybe a small ‘f’ fundamentalist with regards to Catholicism, but there I’d rather say ‘traditional’ and no, that’s not the same as ‘traditionalist’) so I can’t comment directly as to what is going to happen or is happening or has happened within an American context, but I think that such a conversation is really, really important and really, really needs to happen.

            However, the fall-out from it would be catastrophic: one side clinging on to every comma and full-stop in the King James Version and if we don’t believe in a literal 24-hour day, six-day creation, we’re all heretics and atheists and calling their opponents liberals and modernists, and the other side castigating their opponents as embarrassing them in front of the neighbours with their backwardsness and re-discovering all the old heresies as sparkly new notions. I’m not sanguine about the few who would like to find a balance between ‘this is the Word of God’ and ‘this is also a collection of human documents assembled over generations’.

            And as a member of a hierarchical, traditional, liturgical, been-around-since-old-gods’ time church, I am fed-up to the back teeth with the response to any difficulty being a case of floating off to be some kind of perfect Christian on your own with loose connections in a like-minded group and Bible verses galore to back up your own point of view. Fundamentalism, as far as I can make out, started out laudably as based on the fundamental, irreducable basics of the faith; it became ossified in one fashion and Evangelicalism was a response to that; then Evangelicalism (as it would appear) discovered its own flaws so now we have the next wave of earnest seekers. But suppose yet another label (and some kind of label will be slapped on) is started up – in its own time it will find its own weaknesses and stumble into its own cul-de-sac.

            In brief, it will either deteriorate into a loose grouping based more on a common sentiment and attachment to pet causes (perhaps with a helping of patting themselves on the back for being so tolerant and open-minded and not like that publican over there, Lord) or it will stick on its own principles and be just as bogged-down in ‘All right-minded decent people think like this.’

            My name-saint, Martha, was a very practical woman who expressed total faith in the Resurrection and the ability of Jesus to save, but also knew that a three-day old body would stink. I think we need a bit more Martha to balance out the Mary 😉

    • Murray, who would you recommend for some reading?

  11. Christiane says:

    “I’m tired of trying to convince other Christians that I am a Christian. As Dan and I enter that stage of life when we will likely start a family, we want to raise our kids in a community of Christ-followers where diversity is celebrated, questions are welcomed, and differences are handled with love and respect…not flippant “farewells.””

    That is a very moving statement.

    I blog on one Southern Baptist blog where one commentator constantly calls other ‘heretics’ and claims that they are ‘not real Christians’. His tone and language at times are such that even the blog administrator, also a staunch fundamentalist, has to eventually delete some of the worst comments.

    I would like to see people return to ‘good will’ towards each other, and if they can’t manage that, at least a return to civility. That would be a ‘turning-point’, I think, for the better.

    ‘Negativity’ has gone as far as it can go among fundamentalists. They are losing money and members. They have become, sadly, their own worst enemies.

    • ‘Negativity’ has gone as far as it can go among fundamentalists. They are losing money and members. They have become, sadly, their own worst enemies.

      @Christiane…always be weary of those who think they have the truth and are defending it. They will go to any, and whatever “length” to defend it. That’s one of the reasons why I think things may get uglier before they get better. Becuase many “fundegelicals” take it upon themself to defend the gospel. They take it seriously and quite personally. I’m actually nervous how things can or will develop; and in the end I fear that a lot of lives will be destroyed and people will walk away from it all so disillusioned about faith, God, Bible, etc.. after seeing how poisonous the debate can become by those who are “losing.” I think evangelicals are in the beginning stages of this currently.

      Just a thought…

      • Christiane says:

        Yes, I see. Hence, my sadness over what I am witnessing on that blog site, as well as several others . . . so much negative, so much disrespect.

        My son was home from the Coast Guard on leave, and he read some of the comments on that blog. I will never forget what he said:

        He said, ‘Mom, those people hate each other.’

        Sadness? Yes. very much so.
        The potential for the negativity to impact the lives of people in ways harmful is indeed something to fear.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        @Christiane…always be weary of those who think they have the truth and are defending it.

        “A fanatic is someone with one piece of a pie who thinks he has the whole pie.”
        — Pope John Paul II

        “Nothing’s worse than a monster who thinks he’s right with God.”
        — Captain Mal Reynolds, Free Trader Serenity

  12. Most of the folks who are predicting the end of evangelicalism have done so because their allegiance is to Jesus, not a Jesus-based movement.

    The reason I don’t believe evangelicalism is going to collapse—or, which is more likely, that it’s going to evolve as the modern generation passes away and the postmodern generation takes its reins—is because there’s a lot in evangelicalism that is of Jesus, and for that reason the Holy Spirit’s not going to toss it aside as irrelevant. The postmodern and emergent and nondenominational and just-discovered-Reform-theology-and-find-it-awesome contingent may be making all the noise now, but those are the churches we look at… while meanwhile we attend evangelical churches.

    That said, Mrs. Evans is right: The trend in evangelicalism is to drop labels, and if we don’t see it visible in the future, it’ll only be because it’s there in small print. In California, fewer and fewer churches are identifying themselves as part of one denomination or another; the Baptist churches leave “Baptist” out of their name, the Assemblies churches drop “Assemblies” and usually become “Christian Life Centers,” and you’d never guess the Presbyterian churches were Presbyterian. (Like Vintage Faith in Santa Cruz.) They’re not hiding what they are, but they’re not putting them on the nametag. Titles are limiting, and people don’t want to be limited—or drive others away based on perceived limitations—so out they go, and “evangelical” is going to be another one.

    But in the end, those churches will still be evangelical: They’ll be historically orthodox, historically Protestant, emphasize the primacy of scripture, evangelism, a personal relationship with Jesus, and distinctiveness from the larger world. Hopefully that distinctiveness will take the form of sanctification rather than T-shirts, and grace rather than dogmatism. We’ll see.

    • I love this post, K.W. Thanks for taking the time to write it and the thoughtfulness that went into it. Grace over dogmatism/legalism — AMEN!

  13. ‘Evangelical’ means – Political alliance w/ Republicans
    the term may have meant something different at one time, but that’s what it means today.
    once a term changes meanings it is almost imposible to change it back. Try telling someone that listening to music makes you ‘gay’ (happy) & see how they look at you 🙂 . The change of meaning is the Evangelical movements fault, they put political power over everything else.
    I don’t know what will come out of the ‘evangelical collapse’ – but I believe it will be a “relationship religion” & not the “formula religion”. Not TULIP, Law/Grace, Alter calls, & decisions, —but Love God your creator, Love neighbor as yourself, Love God’s creation, & know that his Love saves us. —I am hopeful for the Future of Christianity but not Evangelicalism. peace.

    • Christiane says:

      ‘Evangelical’ means – Political alliance w/ Republicans”

      It has, but will that continue, now that unions and labor are being ‘targeted’ big time in a number of states by Republican governors ?

      They may say ‘anti-abortion’, ‘anti-gay marriage’;
      but people are going to hear ‘anti-union, anti-labor’

      The new ‘social’ issues are those of social justice and solidarity with the working class and the middle class . . .
      the Republicans have played the ‘abortion’ card, I think, for the last time, now that the anti-labor agenda is out in the open for all to see.

      • At least where I live, I don’t see the marriage with Republican politics eroding. Evangelicals are mostly anti-union and anti-labor and not attuned to social justice issues. Christianity is still seen in individualistic terms.

        • Totally agree, John. Christians have developed tunnel vision with the GOP at the end of the tunnel, and even if it’s a train comin’ to run them down, they only see that the engineer is pro-life, and they watch the underbelly of the train pass over them as they cling to their belief that if they can stay alive until the caboose passes, money from the rich will be flowing off the back end of it and they’ll be able to catch some as they pass into the afterlife. Meanwhile, the family values politicians and their corporate friends are laughing all the way to the bank…

          • Dan Allison says:

            The Republicans have never really been pro-life. That’s just something they say to get evangelical votes. I’m not aware that they’ve actually prevented one abortion. What they do is depress wages, making it less likely that working families can afford to raise families, and more likely that women will seek abortion. The only thing Republicans have done in thirty years is enrich their corporate and banker buddies at the expense of working people.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The only thing Republicans have done in thirty years is enrich their corporate and banker buddies at the expense of working people.

            “I Got Mine,
            I Got Mine,
            I Don’t Want a Thing to Change
            Now that I Got Mine…”
            — Glenn Frye

    • I know you didn’t mean it to be funny, but “Alter calls” made me smile….

  14. Hi Mike,

    In light of this post , I’d love to hear about the ways in which those deep in ‘the post evangelical wilderness’ share their faith with unbelievers (the specifics).

    Hey also – have you guys heard the story of the George Street Evangelist, in Sydney Australia?

    If not, I trust you’ll be blessed by this: http://tinyurl.com/4kndehy

    In Christ,

    Matthew

    • Dan Allison says:

      I left my last church a few months ago. I think people actually find my witness more authentic because I’m not trying to recruit them for some church. Outside Christianity, the churches are seen as money-grubbing corporations concerned with “increasing market share” and “hitting the target demographic.” When people get to know me personally, and understand that I am not after their money, vote, or membership, they strangely become much more willing to listen and discuss.

  15. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    The little I’ve heard in interviews with her and read of her writing, I do like Rachel Held Evans. I certainly can sympathize with her take on the dogmatism in certain segments of Evangelicalism.

    That said, I find myself wondering how folks on either side of this increasing divide expect their respective movements to have any staying power. Upon what is their foundation? If they say “the Bible,” I’d just laugh. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Reformation it’s that while sola scriptura may be a nice rallying banner, it ultimately fails to be an effective unifier. There are just too many ways to disagree over the Bible, even when all parties are using solid hermeneutic principles.

    I mentioned this earlier, but I think most of this boils down to an authority problem. On both sides of the divide there are simply too many lone wolves and hyper-independent congregations and leaders. There are too many voices in these debates that simply aren’t accountable to anyone. In the end, you just get more and more splintering. Yeah, like that’s good for us all.

    Back-in-the-day, even among more independent congregationalist groups, church covenants and other “external” accountability measures were prevalent. Someone who set up a church without being accountable to anyone used to be considered a cult leader. These days, it seems to be the norm.

    Because of this sort of thing, I place high value on the historic episcopate. But even for folks who are from other traditions, shouldn’t it be important to test our theology by both the Bible and historic Christianity? On all sides of this divide, there needs to be a realization that Christianity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s context to our faith. That’s why Paul says to hold onto the “faith you have received.” There’s so much arrogance in the way these things are treated. It drives me nuts.

    • how many wars have been fought for historic episcopates? how many have been killed by historic episcopates as heretics? How many sins & injustices have read into the Bible & carried out in the name of God? How many mistakes have been made by Popes & all of historic Christianity?
      what does all this have in common?
      Humanity & our sin.
      Nothing is safe as long as we are involved in it. I can only trust in Jesus (imperfectly). Grow in the word with my community of Faith (the Church Universal). Do the best we can in Love, knowing we will be forgiven when we fall.
      I can understand the value of the historic episcopate. in history. in organization. but I can’t trust it. just my nature I guess.
      enjoyed our thoughts. peace.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        I dig that a lot of folks here don’t dig the historic episcopate. No problem. But the authority problem still remains. Who is there to hold these folks accountable? With that lack of accountability, why are we surprised that so much silliness has developed.

        Authority and accountability certainly don’t solve all the problems. As you said, “nothing is safe as long as we are involved in it.” But authority and accountability can help solve the authority and accountability problems.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “Historic episcopate” sounds like a code word for “Romish Popery” to me.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            Not from me. The Orthodox have it. The Anglicans have it. Some other folks have it, too. It’s not just a Romish thing. But for me it is an apostolic succession thing.

            But, again, not the point. The point is there’s an authority problem. Where’s the vote given to our ancestors in the faith? I’m not saying things would be solved if we all found ourselves some bishops. I’m CERTAINLY not saying that those without bishops in the apostolic succession aren’t “real church.” There are historic Protestant groups that have some good answers to the authority problem IMO. But these days it seems the trend among Evangelicals is to claim the bible as the only authority. Sounds good on paper; never works in practice.

    • my beef, if that is the correct theological category, with church wars & the like has more to do with posturing & delivery rather than correct orthodoxy. and yes, ‘my’ faith is not correctly independent, but communal & individual. i am not part of a Frankenstein cadaver experiment, but a member of the Body of Christ. i did not choose my placement in this Body of believers nor approve those others adopted into this diverse family…

      many, if not most, of the self-appointed apologists of whatever stripe maintain an air of smug superiority even in their feigned humility. whatever God-given skill that requires should be listed in a special category of spiritual gifts IMHO.

      anyway, the furor over Rob Bell just the most recent example of wasted effort, finger-pointing, anethemas, etc. almost melting down the internet. for once if John Piper, Mohler, Driscoll, Bell, McLaren, MacArthur, the Pope & the Patriarch of Constantinople all invited one another along with their faithful to join in the relief efforts in Japan, then my respect would be off-the-charts! yeah, to see them side-by-side mucking thru mud looking for survivors or donning HazMat suits helping shut down the nuclear reactors, now that would be the one holy shot heard ’round the world! yeah, praying together, crying together, sharing the love of God they all claim to know & serve…

      there is a phoniness to the efforts of being the grand poobah defender of the faith if one is not a doer. the rhetoric is deafening. maybe God is wanting His Church to actually do what it claims to be unwavering allegiance to His gospel no matter how doctrinally dissected it is or what flavor you endorse. what a wasted opportunity…

      Lord have mercy… 🙁

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        I agree with all that. But we really must make sure to not create a false dichotomy between right belief and right action. Good doctrine should lead to good works. One without the other is a seriously deficient Christianity.

        • “MERCY – “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13). What is desire but will? God’s will is mercy, and he said to go learn it the only way we “learn” anything…by DOING IT.

          Mercy is God’s supply system for every need everywhere.
          Mercy is that kindness, compassion, and tenderness, which is a passion to suffer with, or participate in another’s ills or evils, in order to relieve, heal, and restore.
          Mercy accepts another freely and gladly AS he is and supplies the needed good to life to build up and to bring peace, and to keep in peace.
          Mercy is to take another into one’s heart JUST AS HE IS and cherish and nourish him there.
          Mercy takes another’s sins, evils, and faults as its own and frees the other by bearing them to God.
          This is the Glow-of-Love. This is the Anointing.”
          -(Rex Andrews, founder of Zion Faith Homes, What the Bible Teaches About Mercy)

  16. One more Mike says:

    Running Micheals “Coming Evangelical Collapse” posts again is a great idea. I’m looking forward to the discussion and will re-read them in the archives in preparation. In fact, I’d commend the iMonk archives to anyone new to this blog. There’s fantastic stuff in there, and when you read the works of our founder, Micheal Spencer, first saint of the internet, you’ll know why so many of us have been coming here for so long and can’t stay away. The man was right and saw the collapse of evangelicalism coming a long way off.

    FWIW, the sooner the whole putrid edifice collapses, the better.

    • Michael was predicting the collapse, but he also saw the good parts of it too. Evangelicalism has a lot of positive to offer as well.

      • One more Mike says:

        Agree completely. Michael did see the positive aspects of evangelicalism, but I dont think he held out any hope that it would survive, in it’s current form, all the divisive issues we discuss here all the time. And I know from his writings he wasn’t happy to see this happen. He just called it like he saw it and did his best to warn us.

  17. “I haven’t lost hope in the future of evangelicalism, but I’ve lost the desire to fight for my place in it. I’m tired of trying to convince other Christians that I am a Christian.”

    1000 times yes. As a late-twenties female who grew up in conservative Evangelicalism, I really enjoyed this.

  18. KR Wordgazer says:

    All I can say is that when Rachel described the way this leader and that leader questioned the salvation of anyone who disagreed with them, she was speaking with my own voice. I’m tired of it and want nothing more to do with exclusionist, holier-than-thou, dictatorial, legalistic Christianity. I want to “know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” And I want to “regard no one any longer according to the flesh.” Anyone who wants to fellowship with me on those terms, I will welcome. I don’t really care what label they use for themselves.

    • “MERCY – Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13). What is desire but will? God’s will is mercy, and he said to go learn it the only way we “learn” anything…by DOING IT.

      Mercy is God’s supply system for every need everywhere.
      Mercy is that kindness, compassion, and tenderness, which is a passion to suffer with, or participate in another’s ills or evils, in order to relieve, heal, and restore.
      Mercy accepts another freely and gladly AS he is and supplies the needed good to life to build up and to bring peace, and to keep in peace.
      Mercy is to take another into one’s heart JUST AS HE IS and cherish and nourish him there.
      Mercy takes another’s sins, evils, and faults as its own and frees the other by bearing them to God.
      This is the Glow-of-Love. This is the Anointing.”
      -(Rex Andrews, founder of Zion Faith Homes, What the Bible Teaches About Mercy)

      • KR Wordgazer says:

        Thanks for those words, David. I will say it is very hard to give mercy to those who would give no mercy to me. I am still not at the place where I can “free” the sins and evils of judgmental exclusionism by accepting those who call me “heretic” or worse, just because I disagree with them on a minor point, just the way they are.

        I don’t know the answer to this. God help me.

        • The answer is found in (Psalm 107). I asked God the same help. The reply continued, “What if My Son said to you what you are saying to Him, David? What if I treated people with what they deserved when they called me ‘demon-possessed’ and worse? Do you remember what mercy I gave to you? What did you do so wonderfully to get ME to rescue you?”

          The Truth KR, is only suppressed by our own unwillingness to see ourselves right, and a supreme desire to see ourselves as better than those who sin against us. When in fact, at the foot of the cross the ground is flat. Imagine taking a trip back in time to Calvary, walking up to the cross while Jesus is bleeding there and gasping for just enough air to pray for you. Then imagine asking Him if your sins hurt Him any less than those whom you have been so hurt by. His reply would certainly be, “It all feels the same to Me, son!”
          Bless you, brother

          • KR Wordgazer says:

            Actually, I’m a sister. . .

            And Jesus died for the Pharisees, yes– and I’m sure He loved them– but He also spoke out against their practices. He was not at peace with them. In fact, the self-righteous and judgmental were the ones He denounced publicly. I think there’s a balance there that must be found.

          • Please forgive sis’

            I agree wholeheartedly concerning the balance you are referring to. Balance based on discernment is the key. I suppose the balance is to be at peace in our hearts, for He did say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” as well as “My peace I give unto you.” Not being at peace with the sin in others, yet still being at peace in ourselves because we are attached to the True Vine, and because we remember the great mercy He has done to us. A critical spirit has been the biggest stronghold in my own life. Moses had not given himself over to the sin of idolatry, but when he interceded to God for the Israelites, He included himself as though he had, when he said, “we.” He stood in the gap and basically said, “blot my name from Your book Lord, save them at my expense.” A typology Of Jesus and of the meaning of the cross.
            Yes, we must stand on sound doctrine and biblical Truth, but it comes to a point to where the only relationship we have with certain people is our intercession for them. Just my thoughts. I am just a knucklehead.

  19. Charles Fines says:

    Fringe, I like that. I think Jesus lived on the fringe. I picture a huge, intricate tapestry. You can walk all the way around it on the fringe and meet a lot of interesting people, Some you want to stop and spend time with, some you nod politely and move on. You pass a lot of roads and highways going in along the way. They often have signs posted, some with quite lengthy names, some more simple like Bible Only or Jesus Only or Grace Only or Tradition Only. Interspersed is one that shows up now and again, a little path really, you could easily miss it and the sign is often covered with leaves or overgrown. Love.

    A little birdie tells me that in the center is a house with the Father standing in the doorway as if looking for someone appearing in the distance. Apparently all those paths called Love end here, all the others end up in various other houses. Well, what could a bird know?

    Evangelicalism in my view isn’t going away, it’s becoming irrelevant to what Spirit seems to be doing. Fighting it is effort ill spent. Effort is meant, in my understanding, to be spent on loving God and neighbor, both of which, in my experience, take a lot more effort than I can muster up on my own. Walking the fringe often helps.

    • “Evangelicalism in my view isn’t going away, it’s becoming irrelevant to what Spirit seems to be doing.”

      Evangelicalism seems to be becoming irrelevant to what I’m doing.

  20. I don’t doubt Rachel’s sincerity. However, as someone who left my 20s a while ago, I am increasingly frustrated by the 20-somethings who think they’re the 1st generation of Christians who long for authenticity and aren’t interested in fighting about faith. As smug as John Piper seem in his “rightness,” his detractors seem to be just as smug in their assertion of his “wrongness.” Both are unappealing to me.

    • I was thinking that very thing as well.

    • well put, thank you

      • I should say that it’s easy to criticize the “20-somethings” as above, but having also been there myself, I know how easy it is for the most well-intentioned person to think that they’re on to something new and that others don’t really know what they’re talking about. If the “older-than-20-somethings” (like me now) did a better job at teaching discipleship and being good role models themselves in things like humility, graciousness towards others, discernment as to what’s “candy” and what’s solid food, there would probably be less of the attitudes you describe.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I am increasingly frustrated by the 20-somethings who think they’re the 1st generation of Christians who long for authenticity and aren’t interested in fighting about faith.

      That sounds like a present-day Christian version of the Twentysomethings in the Sixties railing against “plastic people” and longing for authenticity. They also thought they were the First Generation to ever do so. It’s probably a general characteristic of Twentysomethings coming through in different contexts.

    • Brendan H says:

      Let me get this straight…you have a problem because someone doesn’t want to “fight about faith”?
      Seems to me your dismissing them in as cavalier a fashion as Piper did Bell, or as you accuse Held of doing here.

      Furthermore…is there a reason I should be particularly concerned that you are annoyed by this?

      • I guess I wasn’t very clear. First, though, I never said I was annoyed. Secondly, no, I don’t have a problem with someone not wanting to fight about their faith. I think you may have misread that. My point was that there are many people (including me) who don’t want to fight about their faith — it’s not a new idea.

        I love the enthusiasm and earnestness (not even sure that’s a word) of younger people and younger Christians. I just wish they wouldn’t assume that because certain ideas are new to them, that they’re new ideas to all of us.

        I’m not sure how to answer your last question.

  21. I believe that Michael Horton hit the nail on the head about evangelicalism when he said, “When our churches assume the gospel, reduce it to slogans, or confuse it with moralism and hype, it is not surprising that the type of spirituality we fall back on is “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” In a therapeutic worldview, the self is always sovereign. The great questions of life do not concern what an external authority has determined to be good, true, and beautiful, but one’s own sense of well-being and fulfillment. God is there to be used as needed, but does not surprise, contradict, judge, or disrupt our lust to control our own lives and destinies. Accommodating this false religion is not love-either of God or neighbor-but sloth, depriving human beings of genuine liberation and depriving God of the glory that is his due. The self must be dethroned. That’s the only way out.”

  22. many of the traditional views in North America have been formed in a vacuum; by people disassociated with both history and each other. it is true that a lot of noise is being made today by people who are less then accomodating toward others on account of these beliefs. however, i am observing a very significant shift within the church toward a greater appreciation of history, and one another, that greatly supercedes the current noise makers. this makes me hopeful.
    this new appreciation is causing fear and suspicion to break down, and humble interaction is becoming a major part of church life. also, the enlightment driven pseudo-scientific approach to the bible is waning. i cannot see the rigid bible interpretations of many today holding water in the near future. enlightemnent driven interpretation will appear nonesensical as people approach the bible more wholistically. fundamentalism as we have seen in the 20th century cannot exist in any other setting. it is essentially dead. some people are just late in seeing this.

  23. I can only imagine that those complaining about evangelicals today if they had received the letter to the Galatians in the first century…

    Paul is so mean. Who appointed him as an apostle? Why is he making such a big deal of adding works to faith? We’re all baptized Christians. He’s so divisive.