December 14, 2017

Writers’ Roundtable: The Coming Collapse Of Evangelicalism

In January, 2009, Michael Spencer fired a shot across the bow of the evangelical church with a three part series, The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism. (You can access all three parts here.) I have asked our iMonk writers to revisit these posts for today’s roundtable discussion. We are two-plus years removed from Michael’s predictions. Was he right? Is the evangelical ship still sinking, or is it finding a way to stay afloat?

Seated with me here at the iMonastery’s dining table (it’s really rectangular, but “writers’ rectangletable” just doesn’t have the same ring) are Chaplain Mike, Damaris Zehner, Lisa Dye, Adam Palmer, Mike Bell, and our newest member, Martha of Ireland. We asked Martha to bring a bag of chips for our snack, but all we got was a paper cone of French fries. She did, however, provide some Guinness liquid bread, so we’re ok.  Let’s get started.

Jeff Dunn: Michael wrote, “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.’”

How does that make you feel? What is your first reaction when you read this? Martha, welcome aboard. Why don’t you start us off.

Martha of Ireland: Complete ignorance here since I’m not American, not evangelical, and the view from the British Isles looks different.  However, from the very little I’ve seen of the American version, and indeed, our own version, of popular Christianity, this might be no harm.  You all know the problems of the Catholic Church, and there has been an astonishing change even in my lifetime in what was common practice both in people’s religious practice and their personal lives.  One response is to lament and panic, but thinking about it, it might be no harm.  At least it means that if you’re going to be a practicing Christian of whatever stripe, you’ll have to think about it and commit, instead of just floating in the cultural Christianity of your society.

Damaris Zehner: The collapse of evangelicalism is not the same thing as the collapse of Christianity.  Cultural expressions of the faith come and go, and should.  I have never had any emotional investment in evangelicalism – I’ve struggled for decades even to find a conclusive definition of it – so I don’t feel strongly about its future.  If evangelicalism has become the whole of Christianity for some, it probably should die and force people to look more deeply and widely for the Church as C.S Lewis describes in The Screwtape Letters, the Church “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”

Mike Bell: I had been commenting on Internet Monk for about two years when I first read this paragraph.   I immediately thought that Michael Spencer was going to be criticized from many different sides for these thoughts, but I also thought that he was very likely right.  So I offered to write a couple of articles showing the statistical support for his ideas.  Michael graciously accepted.   The articles can be found here and here.

The first post in particular shows how Baptists, as a significant representative sample of evangelical Christianity in the U.S., are facing a generational horizon where an aging population is only being replaced by young people at a rate of 37%.  Other evangelical groups face similar horizons.

Lisa Dye: I’m not gifted in spotting trends and I haven’t made a study of this topic, so can’t offer statistics. Following are just some personal thoughts. Michael had more of a visible platform than many who might agree with him and also a pretty direct way of stating his opinion, but I don’t think he’s alone in thinking this. A pastor in my family has been expressing similar thoughts for a few years.  How does it make me feel? Sad. What is my first reaction when I read this? It’s not disagreement.

Chaplain Mike: The statement needs to be read carefully. At first glance, one might assume that Michael is talking about the demise of evangelical churches and institutions. However, I don’t think that is what he is saying. He’s talking about the whole system of evangelicalism and its prominence and impact in the public culture. Evangelicalism gained its prominence in the 1980‘s, 90‘s, and 00’s not primarily because of what her churches did week in and week out or because of what her teachers and scholars were saying, but mainly through the public face of the Christian Right in politics and the culture war. The megachurches and a few media-savvy Christian leaders pushed their way into the public perception as well.

Nevertheless, the power of the Christian Right has greatly diminished already, younger generations are not as committed to the same culture war issues that their elders were, and a lot of the Christianity that is being promoted in the churches matches what has been called “moralistic therapeutic deism”—we are less engaged in the public sphere and more focused on personal piety and practical life issues. Much of evangelicalism simply lacks the theological depth, institutional strength, and public credibility to get and keep the world’s attention and be much of a force in days to come.

Adam Palmer: My first reaction is to say, “It’s about time.” There’s a lot about modern evangelical Christianity, especially the Christian subculture, that I want to see go. If the evangelical collapse means we can start letting the Gospel motivate us instead of political or cultural ideology, I’m all for it.

JD: Michael wrote, In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions on 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.

What can be done to recapture these young people who can sing Christian songs by heart, but have no spiritual depth? Who have a closet full of Christian t-shirts, but have no skills when it comes to Scripture? Who know all the right things to say to sound “Christian,” but whose souls are lost?  Lisa?

LD: “Feel” is the key word here. Feeling is not a bad thing. God certainly formed us as emotional beings in his own image, but much of the time we’ve abandoned thinking for feeling, objectivity for subjectivity and theology for sentimentality. This trend wasn’t so much started in church, as it is a result of the church assimilating to a culture that always wants to feel good and be entertained.

My best friend during the time I was being spiritually awakened was Catholic. From my point of view, she benefited from a systematic means of learning her church theology – in her church. I envied her.

M of I: I’m laughing here, but with, not at, you.  Catholic catechesis over the past thirty years has been dreadful, and the irony is that this came about partly as a result of reform and partly due to the very factors that necessitated reform.  Parents assumed that the children would learn all they needed to know about doctrine in school Religious Education/Christian Doctrine classes as had been the model up to Vatican II, while the schools were going along with the Vatican II reforms that the home is the cradle of teaching about the basics and practice of the faith.

Result?  The nuns and brothers concentrated on the “social justice” and “how do you feel?” elements (what I came to think of as the ‘hello trees, hello sky’ version) while the parents were dropping all the old devotions such as saying the Rosary at tea-time, saying the Angelus, joining sodalities and confraternities, putting up May altars, and the likes, but were not teaching their kids the nuts and bolts of the faith because surely the school would do that.

Solution?  I don’t have any, except that (1) teach them doctrine – not feel-good stuff, not discussions about doing good in the world, but a solid basis for “this is why we believe the things we do” (2) yes, the parents should be teaching them all this, and (3) it doesn’t matter what you do, come teenage/young adult years, the first thing everyone will do is stop going to Church.  They’ll come back later when they get older (generally when they settle down, marry, and start a family) but for the years when they’re out in the world and church is boring/irrelevant/I don’t need to spend my Sunday mornings in a pew, I can be good on my own, if you gave them the solid foundation of “there’s a reason for faith” then it will stand to them and be there for when they come back.  Otherwise, if all they ever had was feel-good fluff, they’ll never come back – why should they?

AP: Well, I was one of those young people not so long ago. I DID have the closet (drawer, actually) full of Christian t-shirts. I had an exclusively Christian CD collection, purchased from the Christian bookstore where I worked. I listened to my Christian CDs on my way to the Christian university where I went to school, and on the weekends I spent all my time hanging out with Christians. I could quote the Bible and spoke fluent Christianese. I was so far into the bubble I could’ve been a professional gum-chewer.

JD: And now you listen to Foo Fighters and Rage Against The Machine. And try to get me to do the same.

AP: Fortunately I came to my senses in my late teens when I realized the depth of my sin and the extraordinary availability of grace, and I’ve been on an upward path since then. It’s taken me into a lot of ditches, mostly legalistic in nature, but I’ve now lived enough of my life through the lens of honesty and openness that I feel mostly well-adjusted and can recognize the folly of my early years of faith.

I have five kids now, and my main desire for them is to avoid all the behavior-based Christianity I lived growing up. Yes, we teach them foundational, doctrinal things about why we believe what we believe, but ultimately my wife and I are trying to model an honest faith that is slathered in enough grace to give us freedom to wrestle with the tough questions. My prayer is that they learn to love Jesus and then have their behavior flow from that love. We never get tired of talking about Jesus at our house, and the Gospel is not a story that can ever be told too often.

JD: Mike, you always have great numbers to go with your answers. What are you seeing?

MB: I differ from Michael Spencer on this point.  The primary reason why evangelical churches have not declined compared to mainline churches over the past generation is the amount that they have invested in their youth. For example, in churches with over 100 youth, roughly 85% of evangelical churches will have a youth pastor, compared to 55% of mainline churches and 22% of Roman Catholic churches.  While not all youth pastors are great teachers, I have seen many who have been wonderful mentors for the youth with whom they have been entrusted.

While Michael complains about the lack of biblical knowledge in evangelical youth, one recent study by the Pew Forum showed that the Bible knowledge of evangelical youth significantly exceeded that of their mainline counterparts. So, while the evangelical church certainly has issues, I am not sure that the answers lie in mimicking the direction of the mainline churches.

CM: In my view, the heart of Christianity in any culture in any age is her churches, educational institutions, and mission works. We have created a shallow Christian culture in which Christian media, bookstores, and parachurch “ministries” have come to define the faith more than the core institutions. Even the “churches” that attract the most people resemble contemporary “Christian culture” more than they do the traditional institutions and practices of the faith. There is no quick fix for this. The answer lies in planting and renewing churches so that they practice and pass on serious Christian faith.

LD: Well, even though I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, I was taken to church regularly and attended Sunday school classes and youth groups. Since I attended more than one church with different family members and friends, I say the following with the idea that this was not an anomaly, but a more general truth. It wasn’t in these settings that I learned much scripturally. It was in parachurch organizations that I was lead through Bible study and mentored spiritually.

Maybe I’m too old for this same thought to apply to high school and college students today, but I don’t think so. When I talk to young people about faith, history and the Bible they listen – partly from curiosity about these things, but also because they are incredibly relational. They love it when adults talk to them in a caring way, not to try to conform them to rules, but to listen to them, talk things over and love them. They long for relationship. What will capture them, inform them and deepen them spiritually is exactly what captured Jesus’ disciples. They want and need mature Christians living life together with them.

DZ: Lisa, I think you are right on target. Childrearing and education seem to forget that their goal is to produce adults, not children.  Children have become ghetto-ized, isolated from adults, and forced to form age-group packs: in school, in Sunday school and “children’s church,” in daycare, etc.  The evangelical churches have been one of the worst about treating children as if they’re a different species from adults.  Children will only grow into adults if they are with adults (real adults, not bearded or buxom X-Box and Disney fans), learning what adults do as they do it.  How many children in evangelical churches sit through a whole church service with their parents?  Some do, but most don’t.  Even the children’s sermon is just a give-away that kids aren’t expected to get anything out of the “adult” church service.  These people are sending the children to the amusement park while everyone else is in school and then asking why they don’t know any math or literature or history.

Modern Christians need to consider what children really are and what they really need.  A few years ago, the church we no longer go to offered the junior high youth group an activity that consisted of eating melted chocolate out of diapers.  There must have been some token “Bible connection,” but what’s really shocking is what this reveals about the leaders’ philosophy about kids.  Kids like gross, revolting, shocking things.  Kids aren’t interested in ideas, or right and wrong.  Kids are really more like wild animals than adults.  And the more kids are treated like that, the more they become like that.

Churches of all stripes will do better at transforming their youngest members if they see in them not just the adult they will become but the eternal glory God means them to be.  How does eating chocolate out of diapers – or even gluing beans on plates – help the “least of these” grow into what God has planned?  It’s not just the evangelicals who fail in this area, though; education and the culture as a whole have a terribly distorted view of childhood and of human nature.

JD: Wow, Damaris, great stuff. Of course, you may have put me off chocolate for a long time.

Again, here is Michael: A small portion of evangelicalism will continue down the path of theological re-construction and recovery. Whether they be post-evangelicals working for a reinvigoration of evangelicalism along the lines of historic “Mere Christianity,” or theologically assertive young reformed pastors looking toward a second reformation, a small, but active and vocal portion of evangelicalism will work hard to rescue the evangelical movement from its demise by way of theological renewal… I think we can rejoice that in the ruins of the evangelical collapse new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. New kinds of church structure, new uses of gifts, new ways to develop leaders and do the mission—all these will appear as the evangelical collapse occurs.

Do you see this happening today? If so, where? How does it look?

MB: Here is where I get excited.  One new ministry that is getting a lot of attention up in the Toronto, Canada area is called MoveIn. Consider this portion of their vision statement:

“…It is time for Christians to move into neighborhoods because they are not safe—to move into neighborhoods that are messy and have high crime rates, high poverty rates, low standards of living, and a disproportionate representation of Christ … to do so on purpose – prayerfully, seriously, communally…”

In my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, a similar organization, called True City, has mobilized churches with a similar goal. Churches and Christians working together, following the examples of True City and MoveIn, is where a renewed evangelicalism can have a very bright future.

CM: I don’t have a very broad perspective on this, but I will cite one example that I find encouraging. In Lake County, Illinois, in Chicago’s northern suburbs, 45 churches have come together despite denominational and theological differences and are cooperating in mission together. They call themselves, “Christ Together,” and they believe that when God looks down from heaven, he sees his One Church in a region, though it meets in different places and forms. They have brought dozens of congregations together in mission while respecting each church’s own ministry, in an effort to reach their entire region with the gospel and ministries of compassion. This is what John Armstrong calls, “missional ecumenism,” and I think it holds great promise.

LD: I hear about it, but don’t see it much in my own church. I know people active in bar ministries and also a few who think they can be more effective doing ministry outside a formal church setting because it is so off-putting to many of the people they are trying to reach. For the most part, services inside the church walls are preaching to the choir.

Recently, I spoke with a guy who was trying to reach concertgoers who came to his area once a year and camped out for a week in a nearby farm fields. He kept trying to entice them into his church with free meals, but they wouldn’t come. Finally, he literally pitched a tent among them and cooked the meals on camp stoves. He was overwhelmed with takers – both of food and the Gospel. ‘Missional’ seems to mean more than inviting people to church now; it means taking church to them. If we’re willing to be open to going places we’ve never been and doing things we’ve never done, then “Christian vitality and ministry” can, and probably will be born.

M of I: I see small shoots here and there.  Different from what I knew as “church.”  Naturally, I tend to huff and puff about “This isn’t the real way to do it” (rather in the same mood as “This doesn’t taste like how Mother used to make it”) but as I said earlier, this is not necessarily a bad thing.  You can’t put the new wine in old wineskins.

DZ: I don’t really know if there will be a reform within evangelicalism or if people will take off to other branches of Christianity.  I’m not sure if we should even look for “new forms of Christian vitality and ministry.”  Constantly looking toward newness is dangerous, because we can never know anything about it.  We can understand something of the past, of old “forms of Christian vitality and ministry,” and we can see and experience the present as the arena where God calls us to service and obedience.  But pursuing newness – “New kinds of church structure, new uses of gifts, new ways to develop leaders and do the mission” – for its own sake is dangerous.  Mostly we are mistaken when we think something is new.  The arrogance that assumes that our age has something newer and better is one of the least attractive human traits.

LD: I agree with Damaris. Reformation may come of necessity, but we need to be careful of thinking that it restores every truth that has somehow been lost. We tend take a good thing and run with it however incomplete it may be.

AP: My evidence is strictly anecdotal, but I do have a feeling that Christians of a certain stripe aren’t going to start waiting for “The Church” to start authorizing what they do. They’re going to see ministry needs and just jump in and start serving, figuring it out as they go.

JD: Michael saw a trend developing that others have predicted as well. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, paid staff and numbers its drugs for half a century.

Yet we are not seeing this. Is it coming? Or will we always associate church with a building and a paid staff?

AP: There’ll always be people who want to flock to a specific church because of the pastor’s personality or because it’s the “cool” place to go. There’ll always be people who basically attend church on Sunday as a means of checking a box (that’s the same as “ticking,” Martha) on their to-do list and fulfilling that week’s religion requirement.

Aside from those folks, though, I think house church and small, intimate gatherings—even monastic-type communities—are becoming more acceptable and even desirable as a means of church expression. Relational currency goes a long way in my generation (and I say this knowingly as the youngest writer at the table here), and I think it goes even farther in the next generation, what with the popularity of social media and the desire to be constantly interconnected. The question becomes: what does church look like to them? They are the ones who are going to take over here in a few years. Any youngsters out there want to weigh in on that question? Perhaps through Twitter or a pithy text message?

LD: Adam, I’m not sure what church will look like to the next generation. I defer to a young pastor in my family who says house churches are on the rise. Several of his age 30 friends have either started or are participating in house churches.

Leonard Sweet writes in So Beautiful about this, saying that for the most part we have ABC (Attendance, Buildings and Cash) churches. What we need are MRI (Missional, Relational and Incarnational) churches. Although he never said that only house churches could be MRI churches, it seems that not having the money eating machines that come with large buildings and staff might better accomplish mission and relationship in the world. Incarnation comes when individuals yield to the Holy Spirit and that can happen (or not) anywhere.

JD: What about our foreign correspondents? Mike?

MB: I am not seeing much happen in the way of independent house churches.  What I am seeing in my area of Canada is a significant rise in the number of house churches and small groups that are forming under the banner and authority of rapidly growing churches.  A number of Canada’s fastest growing churches insist that being part of a home church or small group is critical to spiritual growth within their church.  “The Meeting House” is a single church with multiple campuses, and with now 166 house churches meeting regularly.  The lead preaching pastor lives a few blocks from me in a tiny little house.  This is also communicates a lot to me.

JD: That would say a lot to me as well, but I’m not sure that it should. I think that is a prejudice I have developed that needs to be dealt with. But that is a topic for another day. Martha, what is going on in Ireland on the house church front?

M of I: Different model to that of Catholicism.  I’m too ignorant to comment on this, but from our side, such movements generally tend to be (1) based on private revelation (2) some variety of Marian craziness (I get to say that because I’m Catholic myself) and (3) either fizzle out once the novelty wears off or veer into outright heresy.  Some models have tried to emulate other denominations, e.g. the Charismatic movement in the 80s, but again in Ireland it fizzled out after gamely struggling on for twenty years and never had a wide influence.  Also such homegrown efforts such as Focolare.  Then again, Opus Dei and new organizations such as Communion and Liberation seem to be doing well, so who knows?

DZ: A house church movement may wean pastors and congregations from their Edifice Complex, but it will do nothing to address the deeper issues of accountability, interdependence, and authority.  Leaving these issues unresolved will be far more dangerous for evangelical Christianity than a skewed budget.

And I don’t really see a house church movement per se – more a halfway house church movement.  I’ve seen people who participate in a new house church because of disillusionment with what they’ve experienced in institutional Christianity, but typically they don’t stay in a house church.  It seems to me they either join an established church after a cooling-off time or they quit the faith entirely. One of the more dramatic examples of this here was the Evangelical Orthodox Church joining Orthodoxy as a body, but it happens with individuals, too.

JD: Michael said, I expect to see a substantial abandonment of the seminary system. Are we seeing this? Should we be seeing this? In other words, are seminaries still the best training ground for future church leaders?

CM: I disagree with Michael on this one. My perspective is that we will need seminaries more in years to come. In his book, To Change the World, James Davison Hunter has convinced me that serious study and education is essential. Think, for example, of the Protestant Reformation. On the theological and pastoral level, teachers in the universities led it.

However, from my own seminary experience, there is much to be changed in the seminary system if it is going to be truly effective. It must emphasize not only serious study of the Bible and theology, but also church history, liturgical traditions and practices, spiritual formation, and pastoral ministry. Stronger systems of apprenticeship need to be established so that students have spiritual guides and a vital community of prayer and edification throughout their seminary experience.

JD: You mean future pastors shouldn’t be taught “church growth techniques?” Lisa?

LD: I’ve been in a church led by a pastor who wasn’t trained in seminary. There was a definite shallowness of theology, so I would hate for the seminary system to be abandoned. On the other hand, even seminarians who go through internships meant to train them in the practicalities of ministry often seem to only be inculcated in how to be a church executive or how to run programs. A lot of pastors have so many “business” responsibilities that they don’t disciple those who will in turn disciple others.

Watchman Nee wrote about this topic in Church Affairs. When someone became a believer in his ministry, he studied them to determine if they were gifted with one talent, two talents or five talents and mentored accordingly. He also preached through the foundational tenets of the faith every two years so that new believers were solidified. After two years, the expectation was that they would be ministering to others. So, I think it is a combination of seminary training, of being discipled and also discipling.

JD: Very good points. Damaris, you are an educator. What is your take on the necessity of seminaries?

DZ: A seminary education, well done, is a vital thing for a pastor.  Many seminaries don’t do a good job and fall short in a wide variety of ways.  They should be reformed but not abandoned.  However, to repeat what I said earlier, seminaries will have to address the deeper issues of accountability, interdependence, and authority.

JD: Martha?

M of I: Again, different model from Catholicism.  The seminary system (the requirement for seven years of academic study) was a response to the justified accusations prior to and during the Reformation about the ignorance of priests who gabbled off corrupted Latin they didn’t understand and couldn’t explain the doctrines they were failing to teach the clergy.  I think we need to retain it, and I think we need it precisely because we need the rigour and discipline of a philosophy to balance out the tendency to fade into fideism and fuzzy feel-good “social worker” religion.

JD: Wow. The Irish really did save civilization!  Ok, now your free-range thoughts. Was Michael just venting, letting off some steam about things in the evangelical world that frustrated him? Or was he being prophetic—there really is coming a collapse in evangelicalism. Are you cheering on this collapse, or working to try to repair what you see is wrong in evangelicalism?

Any other thoughts on what Michael wrote?

AP: I’m sure Michael’s three-part series was part venting and part prognostication. He even said so as he closed it out, that he probably got some of it right and some of it wrong. All told, it’s a magnificent way to start a lengthy and much-needed conversation about the state of popular Christianity, if you will. And I hope and pray that iMonk will have a say, however small, in guiding the movement toward a Jesus-shaped spirituality for years to come.

I came to Internet Monk after Michael’s diagnosis and shortly before he passed, so I don’t have the background many of you do with his writing. But as great the site is now and with all the marvelous ways we wrestle with faith there, I have to admit I look forward to the Saturday iMonk classic posts the most. Michael’s voice was distinctive and influential, and I regret that I didn’t come along for the ride much, much sooner.

M of I: I agree, Adam. God rest the man, I miss him.  He educated me as to what American evangelicalism was (or could be) really like, much more than the tele-evangelists who were on satellite stations at ungodly hours of the morning that we saw over here and took as an example of what American Christianity was in actuality.

I think he was right about some form of collapse, chiefly because every system eventually becomes too top-heavy and encumbered with dead wood.  A season of pruning back is no bad thing.

CM: I don’t think Michael was simply venting. He was trying to seriously examine where current trends in evangelicalism seem to be leading us. I also think he wanted to burst the bubble of triumphalism that pervades the American evangelical world.

I would welcome the “collapse” of evangelicalism in many of its forms. You could close every Christian bookstore, cut off every Christian TV and radio program, cancel every CCM concert and get rid of every Christian band and song, and stop publication of the vast majority of popular Christian books, and it would not affect me one whit, nor do I think it would hurt the cause of Christ in the world in any significant way whatsoever. If all Christian politicians, pundits, and lobbyists who are out there in the media speaking out about culture war issues closed their mouths, I don’t think the country or the culture would suddenly go to hell in a hand basket.

JD: Come on, Chaplain—don’t beat around the bush. Tell us how you really feel.

CM: My relationship with evangelicalism is complicated, and my feelings are extremely mixed. I am serious when I speak of the “post-evangelical wilderness.” I long for the church to be the church, pastors to be pastors, worship to be worship, Christians to live out their faith in all vocations, and Christianity in all its forms to be Jesus-shaped rather than shaped by any “-ism.”

LD: I think Michael was being both observant and prophetic on the subject, though, as I said in the beginning, I’m not gifted in spotting trends and haven’t made a formal study of the topic, so maybe my free-range thoughts shouldn’t be trusted.

Nevertheless, I will briefly offer two.

First, that Christians have stopped leading culture in all its facets (art, science, literature, music, etc.) has had the dangerous effect of creating a vacuum that has been filled with … well, hostility. Not only are Christians not cutting-edge in leading culture, they are fair game for being ignored at best and victimized at worst. I fear we have settled for passivity and moderation in all things, including excellence and winsomeness.

Second, we Christians fight amongst ourselves way too much. Rousing discussions are one thing; vicious verbal assaults are another. Lack of unity in the Body of Christ destroys churches and the Church from within and does more to deter unbelievers from belief and than anything else in my opinion.

JD: Wow. Y’all are certainly a feisty bunch. Do I blame that on the topic or the beer? Damaris, you get the last word.

DZ: As I said, I don’t have anything invested in evangelicalism as distinct from Christianity.  If evangelicalism can be repaired in a way that glorifies Christ and unites the Body, then all power to it.  If not, whack it on the head and throw it overboard.

JD: And there you have it. Well, the writers have spoken. (And left a mess on the table.) It is your turn. Are Michael’s predictions of the collapse of evangelicalism on target, or are things looking up for this branch of Christianity? We look forward to reading what you have to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Rich McNeeley says:

    I think Michael was right, the church is in a state of transition. I don’t know where it will end up, however, Christ’s Church will continue. I welcome the end of evangelicalism in it’s current form (I don’t fit into that mold anyway).

  2. Don’t blame Martha for the chips misunderstanding. Clearly, you should have asked for a bag of crisps

    • There can only be one crisp: Tayto crisps.

      There was even a book back in 2009 detailing the rise to greatness of Mr. Tayto (the yellow potato man on the front of the crisp packet):

      http://www.thedailyspud.com/2009/10/25/spud-sunday-mr-tayto-tells-all/

      • Martha, about that title “Martha of Ireland”. I can’t get past the preposition. Should it be “of” or “from”?

        Do you represent Ireland, or were you merely born-and-brought-up there? For example, should we think of you as something like, oh, I don’t know… “Queen Martha the First, of Ireland” (or) something like “Martha the Milkmaid, the one from Kilkenny”?

        Just curious. No disrespect intended.

        Ted from Maine

        • It is a title bestowed upon me by the good Jeff Dunn, so you’ll have to ask him from whence it came. If you feel moved to pay me royal honours, I won’t refuse your generous intentions, but I’m a commoner 😉

          As to my Irishness, born, bred and buttered here (as we say). Am I representative of the Irish nation as a whole? Ah, now that’s a different kettle of fish.

          I’m fairly representative of my family, is all I’m prepared to say on that one.

          🙂

      • Radagast says:

        I didn’t know the Irish ate potatoes (wink).

        Radagast – the alias of one whos great-great grandfather hailed from Skibereen, County Cork before the great famine (and rumored to be the direct decendant of the fifth king of Ireland – who proabaly lived in a cave).

        • Would this be the fifth king as described by Geoffrey Keating in his “Foras Feasa ár Eirinn (The History of Ireland)”? And are you going by invasions or historically verifiable?

          “Fiachaidh Ceinnfhionnán son of Starn, son of Rughraidhe, son of Deala, son of Lóch, held the kingdom five years, till he fell by Rionnal, son of Geannan, son of Deala, son of Lóch. There were white heads on the men of Ireland during his time: hence he was called Ceinnfhionnán.”

          He’d be fifth in the Fir Bolg list, but if we’re going by at least semi-historical, then that would be:

          Diarmait Mac Cerbaill, A.D. 539-558 (which would make your great-great-grandfather an O’Carroll?)

          or fairly solidly historical, which would be:

          Donncha Donn, A.D. 918-942 (so an O’Donoghue?)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_High_Kings_of_Ireland

          Wouldn’t imagine any caves – I hope not anyway, because Diarmait and Donncha are part of the Uí Néill dynasty, from another branch of which I claim descent on my father’s side (the bardic family part) so if we were all living in caves and eating seaweed, well – it’s not the image one wants to present, is it?

          🙂

          • Radagast says:

            I got that bit of information straight from my semi-tipsy great uncle many years ago so it must be truth eh? (wink) – It is the running joke in the family. Actually the family name was Coughlin or some derivation of but as my great-great grandfather stood upon the peer in Brooklyn in 1843 (before the famine and as of yet no processing center per say) and made his way into that grand city his accent butchered the name into an English-torey one and its been that way ever since (actually watched how it changed over a five year period in the Brooklyn City Directories). Sadly I hear most records from Skibereen are gone because of the famine and then the war.

            Then there was always the rumor that we were descended from the black Irish but I’ve never detected any spanish blood in these veins….

          • Radagast, everyone in Ireland is the descendant of a king 😉

            You probably often heard this song at family events, then:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skibbereen_(song)

            Yes, a lot of the records were lost in the Civil War when the Four Courts in Dublin (where the archives were kept) were bombed.

  3. “JD: Michael wrote, In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions on 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.”

    I think THAT is the key element for “the collapse.”

    At the turn of the millenium, Christianity Today interviewed a few represetative Christian leaders. Ask what their fears were for the future, one responded, “heresy.” So many Christians have no roots. A generation ago, D. Elton Trueblood described it as a “cut flower generation” which having no roots, whithers and dies. The condition has only grown worse. And rootless people do not have the character to be salt and light.

    That reminds me of Francis Schaeffer: “Will we have the courage to draw a line, and to do it publicly,
    between those who take a full view of Scripture and
    those who have been infiltrated theologically and culturally?
    If we do not have the courage, we will cut the ground out from
    under the feet of our children, and we will destroy any hope
    of being the redeeming salt and light of our dying culture.
    –in The Great Evangelical Disaster

    We see all the attention given to the Bell/Hell confusion, but in the life of everyday Christians there is little teaching to help them understand the basics. “Love” is a broader based heresy than any confusion about Hell.

    (edited for content by moderator: link removed)

    • I like the cut flower analogy. Cut flowers reach their peak of beauty long after they have been placed in the vase. In the same way, evangelicalism reached its zenith in the mid-80’s and 90’s long after it ceased to identify with Christ and Him crucified. So much concern has been placed on restoring evangelicalism’s prowess rather than its roots.

      • One more Mike says:

        Or “hot-house flowers” forced to bloom under the tutelage and pruning of celebrity and celebrity wannabee preachers and their “super-christian” minions. Or rigid fundementalists reigning over herds of compliant sheep, just a different type of hot-house. Hot-house flowers are beautiful but only survive a short time out of the hot-house and can’t deal with any variance in their environments. Evangelicalism is composed of series of these hot-houses and the occupants are all throwing rocks at each other. And we all know what happens when we throw rocks at glass houses. Which is what MS did and we do here at IM. We just haven’t broken enough glass yet.

        Gotta go close the windows and let the dogs in before the storm hits. Pray for the victims of yesterdays tornado outbreak.

    • Hey,
      First post on internet monk! this site has been a lot of fun and a real blessing to me
      Among other things, I lead for Young Life ministries out of Davidson college, and so I deal with kids on a daily basis, and I have to say that the kids who have grown up in church know barely more about the Gospel than the kids who haven’t. They know a lot about morality, and a lot about giving God their best effort, but the concept of radical grace is, in practice, as foreign to the churched as to the unchurched. And its a whole lot easier to give the gospel to a new hearer, than to have to replace a false, twisted gospel. This is from mainline as well as Evangelical churches, but the moralism and activism is really heartbreaking in some of my favorite kids. This is a problem that will have to be faced, in adults as well as in kids, and in mainline as well as in evangelical churches.

      The Bible is not the story of the righteous, and not the story of those who overcame. It is again and again, the story of broken, bankrupt people who were lifted up by God’s grace. Until this message is faithfully proclaimed, we will have problems in all of our churches

  4. Adam Palmer: My first reaction is to say, “It’s about time.” There’s a lot about modern evangelical Christianity, especially the Christian subculture, that I want to see go. If the evangelical collapse means we can start letting the Gospel motivate us instead of political or cultural ideology, I’m all for it.

    Totally agree. I’m a twenty-something who’s made his way from being raised in an evangelical context to being young, restless and reformed, to following an “ancient-future” path now in which I actually feel life. And honestly I’m a little pissed that I had to journey through the “church” to get to the Church. So let’s bring it down…how can I make this go faster?

    • That being said…

      I do believe I was born “in due time” and put on a path by God’s sovereignty that led me to Him, and I am grateful (grateful is too weak a word) that all my steps have led me to Jesus.

      Grateful, with a bit of angst I guess…

    • Matthew, the key to it all is Jesus. Not any movement or denomination or church. It is being completely abandoned and surrendered to Jesus. I will speak for Adam here: He and his wife and their children have been through trials that would have broken most people beyond repair. Through it all they have stayed surrendered to Jesus.

      The only thing that needs to be “brought down” is whatever in me keeps me from Jesus. And the way to make it go faster is to live life on your knees before Jesus. Finding a few others who also want to be completely abandoned to Jesus helps a lot. Adam and I go to the same church, but our time together is once a week in a coffee shop setting. There we encourage each other to keep our focus on Jesus alone.

      • And thank you for encouraging me to look at Jesus in that same way. I tend to lead with the mouth sometimes (ask my wife) before thinking through what I say, and upon reflection I see reasons in my life that I would want to be more against the evangelical church than for Jesus. Thank you again for taking the time to comment and point this out.

        • Matthew, I was pointing this out to me more than anyone. I can so easily get my eyes off of Jesus and criticize a church/movement/pastor/author/you name it. Let’s continue to encourage one another to follow Jesus.

          • Yeah, THIS….. as good as IMONK is, even the coolest blog spot ever can devolve into something cranky and bitter unless we heed your words, JeffD; Jesus has not changed, has not moved, and is accessible 24/7. Complaints are valid, but we must not make that our main diet. Nice post , Jeff.

  5. Guinness and Foo Fighters? Where do I sign up?

  6. I don’t think Michael was right exactly. I don’t think its just evangelicalism that’s looking at collapse although evangelicalism is somewhat at fault. With more and more people choosing not to raise their children in church and/or choosing to “let them figure it out on their own” there are more people who have no even basic understanding of Christianity. What many people know about Christianity is what they glean from press releases and sound bites on the news. Sadly, in the U.S., this means that for the most part perceptions are negative as those who are given time on the news or are reported about are usually our more “colorful” figures who are adept with the kind of soundbite that could make a thoughtful Christian cringe even though the originator of the soundbite is probably more thoughtful than the clips make him/her sound. Christianity by sound bite is about as attractive as cancer. Young people will be staying away and not returning to their roots because there are no roots to return to. I agree with the above posts that a good step and necessary step in the right direction is a return to teaching doctrine. A good second step would be a better understanding of the effects of mass communications by those inclined to use them.

    • The problem is that most of these “sound-bite” leaders are theologically vacuous and have nothing more to offer that the shallow pseudo-religious melodrama that Christian mass media has largely devolved into. Much of this broadcasting simply abandoned the façade of orthodox theological content in McLuhan style, where the medium long ago became the message itself. It seems to me as evangelicals increasingly mastered the media, they were more seduced by culture than influencing it. Much of this broadcasting simply abandoned orthodox theological content McLuhan style, where the medium itself long ago became the message. The owner of Tabloid Christian Network as much as said this, declaring he doesn’t care about doctrinal “doo-doo”. Christian celebrities are not the only tootsie roll in the bowl. Biblical illiteracy pervades both pulpit and pew to the point where many cannot discern heresy and syncretism, so its hard to affix blame without implicating “evangelicalism” itself. When that’s up for grabs, no wonder people choose not to raise their children in church. I could go on about being inch deep and a mile wide, but I’m hoping the rant also suggests how to measure up a solution.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    “However, from my own seminary experience, there is much to be changed in the seminary system if it is going to be truly effective. It must emphasize not only serious study of the Bible and theology, but also church history, liturgical traditions and practices, spiritual formation, and pastoral ministry…”

    In my opinion we would be foolish to abandon the seminary system. However much of does need to be reformed. The best seminaries are in a constant process of reform. Stressing the core that Chaplain Mike here is suggesting is an absolute.

    A real study of the Bible, the text itself speaking to the reader is foundational. Not a study “about” the Bible or what someone says about a passage, or a passage pulled out of context. The working pastor needs to know how to do his own study, where to start, how to proceed, and how to draw his/her own trustworthy conclusions. Out of this will flow Biblical teaching, preaching, and theology.

    Combine this with the other elements CM speaks about above, and it becomes a solid basis for a pastor’s edification and education.

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

      I’ve really got mixed feelings about seminary. On the one hand, I don’t want to see ministers who are uneducated or undereducated become the norm. On the other hand, as David said, the system really needs some serious reform. In my denomination (Anglican Church of North America) there’s a tension between our desire to plant more and more churches and our desire to have educated clergy. For one, it seems like a really bad idea to saddle a rector of a new church plant with $300,000 in debt!

      For my theological/ministerial education, I am getting a Master of Christian Ministry from Wayland Baptist University (I’m in the last semester and had started years before I joined ACNA and heard a call to Orders) It’s designed to be somewhat of an “M.Div Lite” at 36 hours rather than 90. Some folks end up rolling that into a full M.Div. It’s definitely been a GREAT degree, though there are a few areas where I’ll probably need to do some independent study (e.g. the biblical languages). The focus is definitely on ministry; it’s a professional degree rather than an academic one (though Wayland also offers an academic M.A. in Religion for those wanting to pursue academics instead) My MCM has also been very affordable. Someone financing the whole thing would end up with less than $50k in student loans. For me it’ll be under $30k. Most of the students at my campus are going with some sort of VA or other military benefits.

      All that is to say that there needs to be some viable alternatives to seminary. That doesn’t mean abolishing the seminary system completely. But some reforms and some legitimate alternatives would really make things better.

    • Just a thought coming off your post.

      I am naturally skeptical when Christians try to apply business models to Christianity and topics of faith.

      That said, the business school model seems to me one that the seminary system would benefit from (warning: this coming from a person who never attended business school)

      1) Business schools are heavily weighted toward collaborative learning. You work with partners and you work with groups. You learn how to work with others, and how to work within a team. For a group or a team to work, you need be able to delegate according to the gifts and talents within the group. Sometimes, you will disagree with the members of the group, but giving up is not an option. These are all things that seminarians and future pastors would benefit from-working together, working collaboritively, being forced to work through problems with disparate people for a common goal.

      2) Business schools are weighted towards application. It’s not about head knowledge, its about applying your knowledge to a situation and trying to make it work. What is the point of having people coming out of seminary with humungous heads of knowledge, without knowing how to put it into practice.

      3) People will usually only attend business school, after working for several years in the market. In the case of business school, there is a good logic behind this rationale. To be a good businessman or entrepreneour its helpful to have real world knowledge of the marketplace. In the same, people going to seminary should be people who have experienced life. They should be people who have worked a real job, and relate to normal people. People who want to be pastors, should first have real knowledge of people in the real world, instead of seeing them only within the four walls of the church.

  8. Thanks for the look at Michael’s great works. I’m happy that his friends and fans are able to critique it as well — I get the feeling he’d be happy with the way it was handled.

    Much of what he said still rings true: I think a shift is on the way, although I’m not sure of the timing or path. I don’t think Evangelicalism will look the same in 20 years: I think the potential for multiple factions wanting (or disowning) the title will be headlines for awhile: The TR Calvinists, The Emergent/anti-Calvinists, The Culture Warriors, the Liturgicals, the Revivalists, the relevants, the young-earthers, The Social Justice people, the Inerrantists…all of these are already fighting for the path to the future of evangelicalism. Each one has told us that their way is the best, and frankly, a number of these groups don’t like each other. That alone is going to stifle evangelicalism.

    And since so many little groups think their issue is THE issue, I expect to see a lot more people (And groups) clinging to their individualistic mentality and going it alone. This will help speed any collapse.

    As for other things, I think his comments on Christian culture probably sting the most, but might ring truest. CCM is already fading, Publishers are largely owned by huge corporations, Small bookstores are being bought out by big-named ones, and youth pastoring gave way to worship leading as the “it” thing for young adults to get into. Despite some true gems, the world of marketing and advertising has made evangelicalism very empty.

    Worship = self-reflective music from a young person on a guitar. Teaching = guy in the front giving a lecture, and theology = books. This isn’t a way to build The Church.

  9. I was with you up to this sentence. “CM: In my view, the heart of Christianity in any culture in any age is her churches, educational institutions, and mission works.”
    NO!!! The heart of Christianity is JESUS! JESUS! JESUS! He is the heart and if He isn’t then it’s all wood, hay and stubble! And that goes for Evangelical churches too. All this other stuff is not a necessity to just tell the simple Good News of the Messiah and to be HIS hands and feet right where you are in your sphere of influence!

    • God made the world in such a way that electricity must be channeled for it to serve useful purposes. You are speaking about the electricity–and I agree with you. I’m talking about the essential channels by which Jesus and the Gospel do their work in the world.

  10. S.J. Gonzalez says:

    Hm, A lot of this seems to discuss Evangelicalism in the rest of the nation, but Miami hasn’t even been hit by a coming collapse.

    Nope, all the Pentecostal steal your money megachurches import that stuff here. Young Earth Creationism is still the way to view Genesis, dispensationalism is popular (though I hear it’s dieing in the rest of the country), and the miseducation is grand.

    As per the Reformed Resurgence, it exists mainly in Baptist circles. Though it’s not really Reformed theology is as much it’s a bunch of people who are passionate about Jesus. Though, I say passionate about Jesus with apprehension because zeal without knowledge leads to hurt people.

    Though this is not an issue to many people. My old youth pastor once told me he would prefer people who are passionate about Jesus who don’t know much as opposed to people who know much but aren’t passionate. I’m not saying the latter is good, but I’ve seen too much of the former.

    Of course there’s a reason he’s my old youth pastor, but I digress.

    So yes, discuss the collapse of Evangelicalism. Discuss the Emergent Church, the New Calvinism (certainly not Neo Calvinism, I see no Kuyperism), and these things. In Miami we’re just becoming post modern, just on the cusp of an Evangelical united front with Calvary Chapel leading the way.

    And the New Calvinists are just 20 or so people. It’s very small. The Emergent Church? That’s starting to exist with some dude who used to be a youth pastor that discovered N.T. Wright and went to Princeton. And even then.

    I’m sorry if my thoughts are jumbled, I suppose I’m angry that I had to do with the negative aspects of Evangelicalism and that people discuss the collapse of it while I see that it’s not gonna collapse any time soon.

    Plus I suppose because it’s Miami, we’re becoming post Catholic more then anything.

    • cermak_rd says:

      Funny you should say that. I’m in Chicago and I had the same thought. Far more post-Catholicism than post-Evangelicalism. Even with Willow Creek practically in the city’s back yard, Catholicism has been the overwhelming majority expression of Christianity in the metropolitan Chicago area for some time.

  11. When evangelical Christianity breathes its last I will say “Good riddence…” and have that Guiness. There are too many problems with this form of Christinaity. Motives are shallow, love is conditional, and grace is absent. I hope some of the organizations so attached by the hip will leave with it, (i.e. Focus on the Family, Chuck Colson’s ministries, CCC, Navigators, etc..)

    Christianity really needs to start over. I think there are so many people burned and fried that some don’t even know how to use the Bible, or even if the can trust it. The damage that has been done through manipulation runs deep.

    • Eagle, there are many here with you. But I don’t see that Christianity needs to start over—certainly Christians do, thought. Again, let’s get our eyes off of churches, movements, celebrities and put our eyes on Jesus.

      Eagle, you have been hurt like so many others by men. But Jesus has never left you. Jesus, Eagle–it’s all about Jesus.

      You are right. Starting over is what is called for. Let’s you and I start over today with looking to Jesus alone. I am with you, my brother. (And the next time I’m in D.C., I’ll buy you a Guinness at the Dubliner…)

      • One more Mike says:

        Make sure you publicize your trip to DC; we could have an IMonk conclave.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Damaris Zehner: The collapse of evangelicalism is not the same thing as the collapse of Christianity.

    Yes and No, Damaris. Evangelicalism has hijacked the word “Christian” without any modifiers to mean its brand of Christianity and ONLY its brand of Christianity. Anyone calling themselves “Christian” will be assumed to be Fundagelical and lumped in with the likes of TBN and Jesus Junk stores and “Just like fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” knockoffs and imitations.

    Chaplain Mike: Evangelicalism gained its prominence in the 1980‘s, 90‘s, and 00’s not primarily because of what her churches did week in and week out or because of what her teachers and scholars were saying, but mainly through the public face of the Christian Right in politics and the culture war.

    Culture War Without End, Amen. Or… “How Ayn Rand became the Fourth Person of the Trinity.”

    AP: Well, I was one of those young people not so long ago. I DID have the closet (drawer, actually) full of Christian t-shirts. I had an exclusively Christian CD collection, purchased from the Christian bookstore where I worked. I listened to my Christian CDs on my way to the Christian university where I went to school, and on the weekends I spent all my time hanging out with Christians. I could quote the Bible and spoke fluent Christianese.

    And you only drank milk
    If it came from a Christian (TM) cow.

    AP, sounds you were a living Steve Taylor song — “Guilty by Association” and/or “I Want to Be a Clone”.

    DZ: Modern Christians need to consider what children really are and what they really need. A few years ago, the church we no longer go to offered the junior high youth group an activity that consisted of eating melted chocolate out of diapers.

    In a room with everything out-of-square, strange dots on the ceiling, and a picture of a woman sticking out her hair-covered tongue?

    There’s worse out there. Google “Baby Bottle Burp” sometime, and remember it’s a church youth group icebreaker. Then google “Infantilism” and “Babyfurs” to see the obvious associations.

    M of I: Different model to that of Catholicism. I’m too ignorant to comment on this, but from our side, such movements generally tend to be (1) based on private revelation (2) some variety of Marian craziness (I get to say that because I’m Catholic myself) and (3) either fizzle out once the novelty wears off or veer into outright heresy.

    Because that is the characteristically Catholic way of flaking out. (The equivalent of setting dates for the Rapture for Evangelicals or Uber-Ascetic Monk-Wannabe for the Orthodox.) Makes me with St Mary WOULD show up to these Wannabe Uber-Visionaries and knock some sense into them.

    DZ: A house church movement may wean pastors and congregations from their Edifice Complex, but it will do nothing to address the deeper issues of accountability, interdependence, and authority. Leaving these issues unresolved will be far more dangerous for evangelical Christianity than a skewed budget.

    Christian Monist has related horror stories of house churches he was involved with who went off on a tangent and eventually completely off the deep end — sort of the Christian version of the occult “ten guys in socks chanting in somebody’s living room” syndrome. Problem with House Churches Uber Alles is they can pinch themselves off from outside reality checks, come under a cult-leader type, and end up as one of millions of tiny independent One True Churches, in constant hostility toward all the other Heretics and Apostates.

    CM: I would welcome the “collapse” of evangelicalism in many of its forms. You could close every Christian bookstore, cut off every Christian TV and radio program, cancel every CCM concert and get rid of every Christian band and song, and stop publication of the vast majority of popular Christian books, and it would not affect me one whit, nor do I think it would hurt the cause of Christ in the world in any significant way whatsoever.

    Then all these hacks would have to compete against REAL musicians, writers, and producers in the real-world mainstream. Not only no longer unable to just slide along on their Christian (TM) credentials, but actually improving their derivative imitations (“Just like fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)”) into something original, with actual standards of quality other than “X Bible quotes per page and Altar Call Ending.” Starting the trends instead of just knocking them off. Who knows, “Christian” might actually come to mean a standard of quality and thinking…

    • Nice That Hideous Strength reference, HUG…

      • “…everything out-of-square, strange dots on the ceiling…”

        Yeah, that seemed vaguely familiar. And that book warns us too of the direction of Evangelicalism if we’re not careful.

        We’re already moving in that direction in the arts.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Nice That Hideous Strength reference, HUG…

        It seemed appropriate. Tell me it doesn’t fit hand-in-hand with that sort of icebreaker.

        (Would you believe I’ve never actually read Lewis’s trilogy? Only learned about it secondhand through osmosis. And that reference is one you tend to remember.)

        • It fits exactly, HUG. The youth so-called minister was training the children in radical “objectivity,” by Lewis’s definition — they were learning to ignore conscience and humane impulses and to make themselves into what others thought they were.

        • HUG, That Hideous Strength NEEDS you to read it. Each one of the Trilogy can work as a stand-alone novel, and although you’d get some of the background by reading them in order, they are each very different in style and you could read the last one first. It could be Lewis’ best work (although I think he considered Til We Have Faces the best) and it fits right in with George Orwell’s anti-utopian thrillers, except this does have the proper eschatology. The bad guys really do get their judgment—and there are a lot of bad guys to go around.

          One of the notable points in the book is that evil has no imagination, no sense of humor, and that it seems to value technology over nature and the arts. So the story is set up as a cosmic battle, an armageddon between good and evil. Somehow Merlin shows up (and on the side of the good guys) so there is also the magical element. No unicorns that I remember.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Actually, the reason I haven’t read it is that it got hyped to me as “You read SF? You Must Read Lewis’s Space Trilogy! You Must! YOU MUST!” Lewis died in 1963; his Space Trilogy was written in the Forties or Fifties; and it was hyped as the ONLY Christian SF in existence. This was in the Seventies; if nothing of note had been written in the past 20 years in the genre (now 60+ years), that’s not a good sign.

            One of the notable points in the book is that evil has no imagination, no sense of humor, and that it seems to value technology over nature and the arts.

            That describes Evangelicalism as well in regards to the arts. (A subject that has been revisited several times here at IMonk.) What impressed me about Christian(TM) attempts at F&SF (the Officially Christian(TM) CBA stuff, not the Classics) was the Utter Lack of Imagination; what impressed me about Christian (TM) Culture Warriors and Activists is the Utter Lack of a Sense of Humor. (In that respect, they remind me of Communists — humor is counter-revolutionary and distracts from The Cause The Cause The Cause.)

            And Technology? Mixed — if it can be used to spread Evangelicalism (esp Televangecalisim), It Is Of God; other than that (paging Ken Ham) It Is Of The Devil. And the mania for “Cheezy Christian(TM) Knockoffs” tell me they’re not all that familiar with it per se — if they were, they’d see things other than “Is It Useful To Me?” As for valuing Nature, there’s the famous urban legend about James Watt’s confirmation hearing and the attitude “Why? It’s All Gonna Burn.”

          • Yeah, I’m sorry you had to bring up the point about Lewis’ portrayal of evil as a back-atcha to some Evangelicals (Fundegelicals?). But you’re right. Lack of humor and imagination, no appreciation of art, and a conquest-of-nature approach. These, and a large bureacracy, were hallmarks of Lewis’ evil Belbury organization (N.I.C.E.) as well. More on that in a reply to Martha, below, if it ever comes out of moderation.

            I remember James Watt. He would have made a good character in the trilogy. Minor part, though. I don’t think Lewis would have entertained him too much.

        • Oh, you should give the trilogy a try. There are elements that don’t come off so well, but there are very funny bits also.

          “Out of the Silent Planet” is the first, and personally I think the scene where Weston finally is brought to meet the Oyarsa and starts in on the usual late 19th century British Imperialist (spiced with a bit of Social Darwinism) spiel is very funny; probably because I’m Irish (and it’s often forgotten that Lewis may have been Church of England, but he wasn’t English; he was born and brought up in Ulster, and that kind of Northern Irish attitude peeks out at times) and we’ve been on the receiving end of the “White Man’s Burden” attitude. I wish we’d learned more of the pfifltriggi; the only glimpse we get is when Ransom meets one and asks him something along the lines of “Why do you work so hard/who makes you work so hard?” and he replies “Our females” (in what is obviously meant to be a humorous rejoinder). Yes, ladies, we get nagging wife jokes even on Mars!

          I think you would be interested in how he portrays the hnau – the three races of intelligent, non-human aliens living on Mars.

          I also like “Perelandra” very much; it has a great description in the opening chapters when Ransom’s friend (the narrator leading us into the second novel) meets the angels of Mars and Venus, and finds that he doesn’t much care for the experience. A very, very different portrayal of angels from how they’re normally presented in popular culture today (as basically humans with wings) and one which should remind us of how very much different the reality is from our fantasies.

          “That Hideous Strength” is possibly the weakest? of the three; it’s set on Earth and is much openly political and polemical. And the attitude to women – well, you can tell the guy was a bachelor until his marriage 🙂

          I’m certainly not saying they’re perfect, but Lewis – give him credit – was indeed an SF fan (I remember reading an interview he did with Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss which was published in the “Spectrum 4” anthology edited by Amis and Robert Conquest; dates from 1965 and I picked it up second-hand years later). So if he’s critical of the genre, it’s from the position of a fan, not a sniffy literary critique from outside of it by a critic looking down his nose at what is not “Proper Littrachur like what should be writted”.

          • If the scene about Weston’s British Imperialist spiel (spiced with a bit of Social Darwinism) is the part that Ransom translates into plain language, you’re right—that was hilarious. It cut through all the crap (p. 135 and following in my paperback). There is a quote a few pages earlier that illustrates Lewis’ portrayal of evil as having no sense of humor: “But Weston did not know the Malacandrian word for laugh: indeed, it was not a word he understood very well in any language.”

            I’m glad you put a question mark after “That Hideous Strength is possibly the weakest?” It’s my favorite of the three, but you’re right about it being polemical. And it’s a bit cornball, too, with its enormous cast of characters (contrast with about four characters in Perelandra) and clearly defined roles of good and evil. I think Lewis used up all his ammunition on that one.

            I’ll have to read these again. I first read them for a course about 30 years ago (Tom Howard was prof) and again about 15 years ago. I’ll also try to find a paper I wrote (and that Howard liked!), but what I got out of it mostly was the utter banality of evil that Lewis was trying to get across. And the spiel you mentioned, Martha, is probably a good snapshot of the whole trilogy. Of course, Weston’s complete breakdown in Perelandra (after he equates himself with God and the devil) is another, but that’s too obvious.

            HUG, maybe it would work better if you didn’t think of the trilogy as Sci-Fi. I mean, Mars and Venus are the settings for a couple of them, but it’s beyond that and has biblical themes, without being CBA Christian(TM), that Lewis could have used in any genre, as he did through Greek mythology in Til We Have Faces. And as Martha said, the final book is back to Earth, so it’s more of a fantasy than Sci-Fi anyway.

            Another good exercise would be to compare the bureaucracy of the evil Belbury gang (N.I.C.E.) with the Big Brother bureaucracy in 1984. Science Fiction isn’t even an element in That Hideous Strength any more than it is in 1984, which seemed like way into the future in those days.

          • Yes, that’s the part I mean. The whole scene is pure slapstick; Weston doing the whole “beads and trinkets” bit quite literally and Ransom trying to translate into Malacandran what Weston’s speech means, and the venerable old Sorn who had fallen asleep during all this palaver – HUG, you have to read it just for this!

            It’s that whole “With the flag to Pretoria” spirit that Tolkien laments in a letter somewhere (going on dodgy memory here, bear with me): accusations of shallowness in “The Lord of the Rings” and that it had been written in a very simplistic “West/White guys = good, Orcs/East = natives = bad” idiom, which he denied.

            And here’s some kind person has put up online the very excerpt I was looking for:

            “So I feel that the fiddle-faddle in reviews, and correspondence about them, as to whether my ‘good people’ were kind and merciful and gave quarter (in fact they do), or not, is quite beside the point. Some critics seem determined to represent me as a simple-minded adolescent, inspired with, say, a With-the-flag-to-Pretoria spirit, and wilfully distort what is said in my tale. I have not that spirit, and it does not appear in the story. The figure of Denethor alone is enough to show this; but I have not made any of the peoples on the ‘right’ side, Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor, any better than men have been or are, or can be. Mine is not an ‘imaginary’ world, but an imaginary historical moment on ‘Middle-earth’ – which is our habitation.”

          • I hate to diverge from Ted here, but I would recommend the trilogy on opposite grounds: don’t think of them as Christian SF/Fantasy, but just as SF/Fantasy novels to stand or fall on that ground.

            Yes, there are deliberate Christian elements in them for a definite reason, but he’s not hitting the reader over the head with “Come on down to Brother Billy-Bob’s Bible-Believing Church and be saved!!!!” every five pages.

            Indeed, in some instances, he’s quite antithetical (I would have thought) to the Fundagelical spirit of Wretched Urgency that sends missions to countries (in Europe and elsewhere) where the natives have obviously never heard of True Christianity (TM) before the missionaries arrived – this is Ransom being instructed by one of the hrossa:

            “Where was the Old One?”

            “He is not that sort,” said Hnohra, “that he has to live anywhere,” and proceeded to a good deal which Ransom did not follow. But he followed enough to feel once more a certain irritation. Ever since he had discovered the rationality of the hrossa he had been haunted by a conscientious scruple as to whether it might not be his duty to undertake their religious instruction; now, as a result of his tentative efforts, he found himself being treated as if he were the savage and being given a first sketch of civilized religion – a sort of hrossian equivalent of the shorter catechism. It became plain that Maleldil was a spirit without body, parts or passions.”

          • Glad I saw you latest comments, Martha. Yeah, HUG will have no excuse by the time we’re done with him.

            You’re right about the bible themes not hitting anyone over the head. I just had a thought though, about Perelandra. It’s an allegory of the Garden of Eden, a “second chance” so to speak. Weston represents the Serpent introduced to corrupt the Green Man and Green Woman (do they have names? don’t have my copy here) as Ransom fends him off.

            Question: is this heresy on Lewis’s part? If Adam and Eve had not fallen there would be no need for Christ on the cross. Is Lewis therefore writing Christ out of the story by default? (This has something to do with supralapsarianism, which I find intriguing). I suppose Lewis redeems himself by writing That Hideous Strength, in which Ransom (well, ya can kinda tell by his name) becomes a type of Christ himself. But then again that too could be heresy.

            Lewis would not have made a good evangelical and the CBA would have blackballed him.

          • The Green Man (the King) and the Green Lady do have names – well, names that are more titles, but we don’t learn them until the end: Tor and Tinidril, as I recall.

            Like yourself, I don’t have my copy to hand, but I think Lewis did cover that part of it: if he failed, and the Green Lady fell like Eve to the temptation of the Serpent/Weston, then there would be a redemption on Venus as there had been on Earth, but what forms it would have taken were not for him (Ransome) to speculate on.

            It definitely is not a case of ‘salvation without Christ’; Lewis makes clear, for example, that since the Incarnation, all life will henceforward be in the humanoid form (no more aliens like the hrossa and sorns and pfiltriggi on Mars) because of the fact that Christ was incarnated in a human body. The case of the First Parents on Venus is not a ‘second chance’; they are the forerunners of the new life as Adam and Eve were on Earth, and they have to undergo the same testing as Adam and Eve did.

            On Earth, it was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil before the time God had decreed. On Venus, it is not to set up permanent residences on the dry land before the time God has decreed. We know the story as it turned out on Earth, but for it to be a real choice, there has to be real free will involved, and so the Venusians are free to obey or disobey. Our First Parents fell, and we know the results. On Venus, they did not. Theologians have speculated as to what would unfallen humans have been like, and that (I think) is what Lewis is doing in his novel here.

            If it’s legitimate for theologians to wonder about ‘would unfallen humans have died naturally or been assumed into heaven or what?’, then I don’t think it’s necessarily heresy to speculate about unfallen non-humans 🙂

            Now, I’d say we’re not so much discussing supralapsarianism as the doctrine of the “felix culpa”, as the phrase is sung in the Exsultet (the Easter hymn discussed in another post on here) –

            O certe necessárium Adæ peccátum,
            quod Christi morte delétum est!
            O felix culpa,
            quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem!

            (O happy fault,
            O necessary sin of Adam,
            which gained for us so great a Redeemer!)

            Okay, there is definitely room to argue about is it or was it a necessary sin; the idea is that, by the Fall, the Incarnation and Crucifixion was necessitated, and so that greater good came to humanity than if it had stayed unfallen. But Lewis talks about this also in the novel – again, not to hand, so can’t quote the relevant chunk.

            However, basically (as I remember it) Ransome is told pretty much by the voice of conscience/God that it’s not his business to worry about what may or may not happen if the humanoids of Perelandra fall, but to do the work he has been sent there to do – which is to educate the Green Lady and oppose Weston.

          • Thanks, Martha. I’m putting the Trilogy up higher in the pile.

    • HUG, once again: It scares me when you and I think alike, especially when we’re doing it at the same time, unaware of one another’s posts (see mine below).

      You’re saying that Evangelicalism has hijacked the word “Christian”. I agree. But I’m saying also that Fundamentalism has hijacked the word “Evangelicalism” and we let them get away with it—or perhaps we never even knew the difference.

      The scariest time in my 30+ years in this clown car was the run-up to the ’04 elections. Reminded me of the final page of Animal Farm, where the merger of pigs and humans was finally complete. We became more American (and Republican-American) than we were Christian, whatever the label.

      • David Cornwell says:

        “Fundamentalism has hijacked the word “Evangelicalism” and we let them get away with it—”

        Very true, for at one time there was a fairly sharp distinction. Evangelicalism was partly born out of the anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism.

      • I think the scariest time is now, with the strange melding of right-wing moralism and Randian anti-collectivism/pro-ego uber alles within the tea party movement. Ayn Rand was viciously anti-Christian, calling the church the kindergarten of communism. But this deadly koolaid is safe for Christian consumption, because it opposes Obama. That is where we always seem to go off course: we are cowed into bad ideas out of fear of “the enemy”; its the fallacy of the ultimatum: choose the prize behind the curtain or the zonk. I wish I could find the Dilbert cartoon which touches on this stupidity, where the choice is between approving a project or being attacked by wild animals. It’s hard to stand up to enemies, but it is even harder to stand up to those who claim to be your friends. We need to be the ones who think and discern; instead, we outsource discernment to political pundits and opportunists like Trump and Beck.

        • Manichean dualism. We hear this heresy all the time from fear-mongering Christian talking-heads. It is what is making evangelicalism collapse under the weight of its own cultural trash. But perfect love drives out fear… and makes brittle idols shatter.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Two weeks ago on April 15, a movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged hit the screens. I am curious about how much of the audience would self-describe as Evangelical Christian.

          My writing partner told me last year that two books were flying off the shelves after the November 2008 elections: Twilight (for women) and Atlas Shrugged (for men). This combination does not sound like a good thing. If Ayn Rand has become Edward Cullen for Men, we’ve got a serious problem.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Ayn Rand was viciously anti-Christian, calling the church the kindergarten of communism. But this deadly koolaid is safe for Christian consumption, because it opposes Obama.

          Years ago, one of my contacts gave me a book titled “Anti Christ”, tracing the history of the idea of The Antichrist. Historically, there were two main archetypes of Antichrist — the Slick Deceiver (Anti- as in imitation of) and the Fanatic Persecutor (Anti- as in opposition to). And these two archetypes worked very well as a tag-team; fleeing from the Fanatic Persecutor, you take refuge with (and the Mark of) the Slick Deceiver. After all, the Slick Deceiver has to be Righteous; not only is he saying all the right words, he opposes the Fanatic Persecutor.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        HUG, once again: It scares me when you and I think alike, especially when we’re doing it at the same time, unaware of one another’s posts (see mine below).

        Then check your closets for either Rod Serling or G4 Pinkie Pie.

        • Me and Rod Serling are OK, but I had to google Pinkie Pie. Cute. I saw the unicorn version on another link of yours, too. Is she gonna keep her head?

          “A rock? That’s my destiny?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iolsBLzo28

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I saw the unicorn version on another link of yours, too.

            That would be Rarity, the fashionista artist type. Real clothes horse.

            Is she gonna keep her head?

            She will if me and a thousand other Bronys have anything to say about it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        It scares me when you and I think alike, especially when we’re doing it at the same time, unaware of one another’s posts…

        Either Great Minds Think Alike, or we’ve both stepped into — THE TWILIGHT ZONE!

  13. I agree that a collapse of Evangelicalism might not be a bad thing if it changed into something better. But it’s hard to pin down exactly what “Evangelicalism” means these days, and therefore how would we know if it collapsed? We consider the Roman Empire to have collapsed about 400 AD, but at the time they had no awareness of it. Centuries later they discovered, “Oh yeah. Huh.”

    Do we let Evangelicalism get defined by what it is not? I think those who most represent Evangelicalism to the outside world tend to be Fundamentalists or extremists, and those on the fringe of the Christian faith or even outside of it. Among the fundamentalists I would include Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson, all of whom have also been politically involved and in fighting the Culture Wars. I would include Oral Roberts, a Pentecostalist; and also the doctrinally fringe preachers Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn. These, I think, represent Evangelicalism to many but none of them represent me or my Evangelicalism.

    If any one figure can represent Evangelicalism I would pick Billy Graham—for his simple, clear, uncompromising gospel message of hope and grace, and for his exemplary behavior in public. Rather than attack the liberals (and conservatives too, if we resist) and attack the culture outside of the faith (warned against by the Apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 5:9-10), Graham has tried to bring people into the faith in a non-judgmental manner, and to point always to Christ. He has used a positive rather than a negative approach (I question his endorsement of George W Bush, especially after having been burned by Richard Nixon, but if that’s the extent of his public misjudgments I’m happy, and trust that he has since felt himself burned by Bush).

    I had heard that the modern understanding of “Evangelicalism” came around largely because of Billy Graham’s ministry and the need to distinguish from the Fundamentalists, and in fact Wikipedia confirms it: “By the mid-1950s, largely due to the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham, the terms evangelicalism and fundamentalism began to refer to two different approaches. Fundamentalism aggressively attacked its liberal enemies; Evangelicalism downplayed liberalism and emphasized outreach and conversion of new members.”

    So, more than half a century later, why do we continue to allow Fundamentalism—or those on the fringe—to define Evangelicalism? Do we even know the difference ourselves?

    If a genuine, Christian kind of Evangelicalism falls I will weep. But if the counterfeit Evangelicalism falls and burns to the ground I will fiddle on the ashes like Nero.

  14. “This trend wasn’t so much started in church, as it is a result of the church assimilating to a culture that always wants to feel good and be entertained.”

    LD is right. The Salem/KLOVE mantra, “Positive and Encouraging” wasn’t invented by evangelicalism. I am noticing that most secular radio stations follow this same formula less conspicuously. It’s all about setting a mood favorable for advertisers. Perhaps the change came when more Christian stations started airing commercials; then they, too, had to prep the audience to receive the advertiser’s pitches.

  15. any trends within the North American churches that are unfortunately identified as ‘American’ can be questioned, seriously reviewed, & abandoned if they do nothing to express/represent/proclaim the gospel. certainly there should be an American flavored church expression that does represent us in its sweeping diversity, but please get rid of the cheesy marketing gimmicks, the TV celebrity promotion, the uber-prophetic rhetoric & the uber-signs+wonders fringe elements that seek after their 15 minutes of fame…

    i like the point raised about Billy Graham as a good role model of sorts to measure against. and yet he does have his critics within The Church. his method of preaching & managing his ministry a good example. the temptation is great to focus on growth or monetary increase or fan base or book sales or conference invitations, etc. we have become a product of the business model approach that does have real metrics to measure success/failure. i am not sure if Billy Graham had to deliberately make decisions of how not to do ministry. maybe his personality & depth of faith simply did not let him feel tempted in those areas. and what about having truly ‘gifted’ saints in the arts rise above the marketing mediocrity today & make a godly impact in their area of expression? is God simply done bestowing artistic expression to saints that can rise above the rest & glorify Him?

    the paid staff church model that does create an artificial pressure of performance & success to keep the salaries+overhead paid can be a major distraction. house churches? i am not sure i would be attracted to them. more cooperation between existing churches that combine resources sounds promising. and what of the young people that will make up the bulk of the believers in this country? is there going to be a knowledge gap that will be difficult & time consuming to overcome? are we already feeling the vacuum of basic biblical literacy that has not yet shown itself completely yet? i am thinking the overall ‘health’ of The Church in North America very iffy. it seems to be suffering from its own brand of spiritual auto-immune disease that keeps it weak & lethargic & insular instead of ‘going’ (outside its comfort zone, not just national borders) where the needs are real & great.

    anyway…there is a frustration that Micheal identified that has complex elements, but i think the obvious concern is widely accepted today. not sure what the corrective actions are though…

  16. The restoration of the church will surely come from a sort of new monasticism which has in common with the old only the uncompromising attitude of a life lived according to the Sermon on the Mount and the following of Christ. I believe it is now time to call people together to do this.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    Let’s pray he was onto something and that it is soon.

  17. Kelby Carlson says:

    I don’t typically comment on posts, but I’d like to offer a perspective from a (quite) young Evangelical. I’m just about out of high school, and here’s what I think.

    Evangelicalism is scattered. The only way it’s going to recover is if it gains a more coherent, biblical and historical vision of itself instead of relying on cultural norms and hyped-up “selfhelp” emotionalism to define it. I go to a youth group which in many ways embodies the tensions within evangelicalism. My pastor has a vision of communicating the gospel, but the youth methods have copped out to the culture. As a result, we don’t use clear language on what the Gospel means. We actually have a sermon series right now where stories from the Bible are told, but during a question/answer session people are forbidden from bringing up Biblical points! I’m heading down south for college and I have some very astute Christian family down there. I’m hoping I can find a church that is aware of historic evangelicalism, is Christ-centered, and is not crazy. Here are some things I love about evangelicalism (and why I haven’t abandoned it), followed by some things it needs to recover.

    1. Missional zeal (something I often lack)

    2. Pastoral care (the leaders at my youth group deeply care about the youth, though I would contend that their efforts are sometimes misplaced)

    3. Youth outreach (I like seeing people at churhc, and we do a good job of getting youth into the door. It’s afterwords that concerns me.)

    4. Energy (at its best, evangelicalism can be fresh, exciting, and passionate)

    5. Community (I feel very estranged from my youth group for a lot of reasons, but there is a palpable sense of bonding and community among most of the people there)

    Now, here’s the problem. We’re missing a great deal from this equasion, which leaves my midwestern conception of evangelicalism pretty bankrupt. We need:

    1. The Bible (we need the Word proclaimed, read publicly, exposited, and studied seriously and we need serious exegesis in the pulpits.)

    2. Liturgy (this broadens to encompass the creative endeavours as well. We have lost any sense of why liturgical worship is important, and we have lost the sense of what biblical worship actually means. As a result, our worship just looks like a rock concert with sub-par musicians and worse songs.)

    3. Doctrine (What can I say? Theology is looked down upon by my youth group, even though I know the kinds of books my youth pastor reads. We need a love for doctrine, a zeal for the truth which will lead us to explore definitions and implications for the Gospel.)

    I’m actually going to come out and say this: evangelicalism does not need “just Jesus” or “more Jesus”. We don’t because in a lot of ways that is what we have–a marketable, watered-down, safe version of Jesus who won’t challenge any preconceptions we might have. We need the Gospel, in the forms of Word, Liturgy and Doctrine. I think there are strains of evangelicalism that are getting there (ancient-future and neo-calvinist versions of the faith are both attractive to me) but whether the broader movement can synthesize this is anyone’s guess. I just want to find a church I can be moderately content at.

    • Kelby, thanks for your insight. It’s hard for me to imagine that you’re in high school.

      Take a look at another comment above by Paul S., a leader with Young Life Ministries. I think he’s in agreement with some of what you’re saying about youth.

      Have a great year in college.

    • I was exactly where you are a few years ago, and gosh, it’s nice to hear from a thoughtful, intelligent person of my own generation (I’m 21). I got so tired of the shallow and embarrassing fiasco that was youth group. I actually went to the youth group leader and asked if we could spend more time in Bible study, and his response was that if I wanted a dedicated Bible study maybe I should start one myself.

      I started looking for a church that was bigger and wiser than just me. I ended up turning to Catholicism, although I don’t think that’s the only solution. I wish you all the best in finding that church you’re looking for.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I actually went to the youth group leader and asked if we could spend more time in Bible study, and his response was that if I wanted a dedicated Bible study maybe I should start one myself.

        i.e. He’s sticking with licking chocolate diapers and Baby Bottle Burp?

      • Kelby Carlson says:

        I don’t think I can go to Rome, though I do go to a Catholic church on Sundays. I’ve never had the guts to really confront my youth leader about this stuff–he’s a great guy, I just think his approach to the Church is wrong. There are actually a couple of excellent churches where I’m going to college, so I think once I get a chance to choose my own it will be better. My family attends the church we do mostly because of longstanding friendships and convenience. I’d be tempted to go Lutheran, but it isn’t as big in the South.

    • WOW, Kelby….how refreshing to see the thoughtful analysis and suggestions from a high schooler. God bless you…as you move on to College.

      Quote:”I’m hoping I can find a church that is aware of historic evangelicalism, is Christ-centered, and is not crazy.”

      I hear ya…..over the years, my wife and I vacillated between involvement with churches (usually some form of charismatic) that were vibrant and alive….but….theologically shallow, and filled with ‘crazies’ (on a positive note…perhaps it was because they ‘actually’ accepted people as they are, and welcomed them)…..and….when we got too tired of the ‘craziness’ masquerading as the ‘cutting edge of spirituality’….we’d venture back to a more ‘staid’ congregation….one that was far more ‘theologically stable’….but….invariably…..largely and observably ‘dead’. You’d have to go up and down the aisle on Sunday…..checking pulses to see if anyone was even alive! 🙂
      Then…after a year or two….we’d MISS the LIFE…..and venture back into the world of ‘zeal and crazy’ once more. Periodically….we’d take a ‘sabbatical’ from what I came to regard as ‘churchianity’…..only to find….after a year or so….that I missed the sense of ‘corporate worship’…..and so….eventually…..re-enter the fray….with or without ‘renewed vigor’. LOL!

      Quote:”and we have lost the sense of what biblical worship actually means. As a result, our worship just looks like a rock concert with sub-par musicians and worse songs.”

      Well…I don’t know about THAT….I’ve heard many wonderful musicians in a variety of churches. I attended a Vineyard a number of years back….where the ‘worship Pastor’ just happened to be a world-known ‘worship leader/singer/songwriter. Perhaps the reason for the disparity in ‘worship’ is also based on a divergence of opinion as to just WHAT ‘biblical worship’ truly WAS? Even in the ‘temple worship’ in the OT….songs and singing was used to preface….and to lead to the entrance into the very Presence of God.

      I guess…with the vantage point of age (gotta be SOME advantage to becoming decrepit!)….coupled with a fairly varied experience in ‘evangelicalism’ over 6+ decades…..my observation….for what it’s worth….would be that perhaps when you decry….is simply the spectrum of variety found WITHIN most ekklesial communities…..a mixture of old/young, of the ‘cultural’ versus the ‘faith’ believers, of new versus old, etc. In other words, in MY experience….in most churches I’ve been a part of…there was a core group who REALLY wanted what you suggest….there was a larger group who were satisfied to ‘attend’ on Sunday….and that was about it….other than the social functions….and another group who attended periodically….often sat and snoozed…chewed gum….conversed…..etc….right through the entire ‘worship’.

      My wife and I reached a point where it was so distracting…that we always sat in the very front row. The plus was that the rest of the congregation could chew gum and whisper all they wanted….It didn’t distract me…and THEY had to look at the back of my ‘follicly challenged’ cranium. I also had ALL the ‘leg-room’ I wanted….since there was no pew in front of me.

      The downside was….the Pastor could see me nod….or shake my head in disagreement with whatever he’d just said….he could tell if I was nodding off too.

      I guess, what I, in my verbose way, am trying to say….is that in my experience, there have always been persons like you (in a minority) who sought after and yearned for a closer relationship with Jesus (the REAL one)….and a grandient of zeal spread among the rest of the group as well. You ARE in a minority….and probably always will be…sadly. I too have often felt and expressed much of your sentiment….BUT…..I was the kind who’d read the Bible through a number of times BEFORE I reached High School….(I ALSO read ‘dictionaries and encyclopedias’ for ‘fun’)….I left home at 15….and attended three Christian boarding High/Bible Schools (leaving each just ahead of the ‘Dean’s boot’…LOL)…..and….like you….never quite ‘fitted in’ to the status quo.

      May I encourage you to ignore the pressures to ‘conform’…..to continue to seek God….to follow Jesus….REGARDLESS of what others….in and out of your ‘faith group’ are doing?

      God Bless….

  18. Kelby:
    You are not alone in your thoughts. I have been thinking similarly for a few years. And I am over 50!

    You are on the right track

  19. I was reading in Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God” (written in the late 1940s) today, ironically, about spiritual receptivity and the need to need to cultivate it. He writes, “Failure to see this is the cause of a very serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism. The idea of cultivation and excercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient and slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returning from afar. The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power fo the Spirit: these and such as these are the symtoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.”

    It sounds like Tozer predicted the coming collapse of evangelicalism 60+ years ago for reasons that still exist today. I find that an interesting add to this discussion.

  20. The collapse is coming, but it will not be a collapse. It will be a revolution, or a reformation, or a way of doing things that is unforseen and different than anything before. This will be a good thing.

  21. Hadn’t paid attention to how many ‘Mikes’ we have here! I should’a stuck with an old handle, Shodan, which I picked to avoid the ‘mike’ confusion. When I was in seminary there was one class, with about 20 or so people, and five of us were ‘Mikes’! Ok, sorry for the off-topic…just found it funny.

  22. Pastor M says:

    Evangelicalism seems to have become like a business in some ways, always coming out with “new improved” versions of this or that which one must have in his/her life to make sure of salvation or to enhance one’s life in some way. A by-product seems to be a sense of shame and sadness, if we allow ourselves to feel and experience it, because we never measure up and have trouble believing that God really loves us much less likes us.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Evangelicalism seems to have become like a business in some ways, always coming out with “new improved” versions of this or that which one must have in his/her life to make sure of salvation or to enhance one’s life in some way.

      Including Forced Planned Obsolescence of the previous “versions of this or that.”

  23. I mentioned this before, and I still wonder if this is the case- is the collapse (or change) limited to white churches? Where I live in Brooklyn, a predominately hispanic neighborhood, and the nearby black neighborhood seem to have very strong evangelical churches going. Every Wednesday night and Sunday morning, the churches are lit up, filled with people (these are storefront churches, probably under a hundred each, but many of them) and active. These are both black churches and hispanic- the vacant lot nearby gets rented out for a revival meeting at least twice every summer, and I remember a couple of them being in Spanish.

    Given that the hispanic population of the United States is growing faster than the white population, I wonder if evangelical culture will eventually shift to include more hispanic members. This is, of course, hoping that “the most segregated hour of the week” becomes less segregated, but I wonder if we won’t see a more colorful face of the evangelical movement in the future.

  24. I think Michael was quite right. I started seeing it myself about years ago as a consultant in Christian marketing. Just follow the trajectory of the mega church. When did they come on the horizon. I am talking the huge mega’s. Churches with a 1000 people are considered small in many circles.

    The church growth movement is an industry. Lots of money to be made. But what has happened is that these churches climaxed in growth in around 2007. (A ton could be written about the average attendee because they are tracked. Many are not even members) So what did the mega’s do when they climaxed? They started satellite churches. These are not church plants. A lot of demographic study went into where to put these sat churches. They usually choose higher income areas where only smaller churches are the norm. These sat churches are still part of the mega. Some use downlinks so the senior pastor is preaching to the sat church.

    But the real question is are these places where people grow spiritually or are they social organizations? More and more people are becoming disillusioned with them. A bad economy is horrible for the mega’s. The electric bill is 20 grand a month whether the attendees give or not. And just when people need help from the Body, the church is ramping up it’s tithe marketing.

    And tithing does not catch on in a mega the way it does in a smaller church. There is no relationship with the tithe for the attendee. (I am not a believer in a tithe but using that word because they do) Most of the giving happens when the “noses” are in the pews. What we saw is that only about 10% “tithed” regularly. I mean using the envelope and giving every week or month. Yet, during the peak of growth, these churches easily rake in a million per month.

    This all goes back to the fact that the rise of the mega’s has been more of a cultural phenonom than a spiritual awakening. The timeline fits exactly with the rise of Christian/Political marriage. Yet, I think they will survive. They offer people what they want. The marketing is focused on “felt needs”. So, we cannot judge the collapse by churches closing.

    Where does this leave us? With a form of godliness but no power of the Holy Spirit.

  25. “The collapse is coming, but it will not be a collapse. It will be a revolution, or a reformation, or a way of doing things that is unforseen and different than anything before. This will be a good thing.”

    I predict we will see more and more missionaries from India, China and the ME coming here to share the true Gospel with us in our comfy habitats and fancy church buildings.