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 todayâ€™s roundtable discussion. We are two-plus years removed from Michaelâ€™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 iMonasteryâ€™s dining table (itâ€™s really rectangular, but â€œwritersâ€™ rectangletableâ€ just doesnâ€™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 weâ€™re ok. Â Letâ€™s get started.
Jeff Dunn: Michael wrote, â€œI 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 â€˜glory.â€™â€
How does that make you feel? What is your first reaction when you read this? Martha, welcome aboard. Why donâ€™t you start us off.
Martha of Ireland: Complete ignorance here since Iâ€™m not American, not evangelical, and the view from the British Isles looks different.Â However, from the very little Iâ€™ve seen of the American version, and indeed, our own version, of popular Christianity, this might be no harm.Â 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 peopleâ€™s religious practice and their personal lives.Â One response is to lament and panic, but thinking about it, it might be no harm.Â At least it means that if youâ€™re going to be a practicing Christian of whatever stripe, youâ€™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.Â Cultural expressions of the faith come and go, and should.Â I have never had any emotional investment in evangelicalism â€“ Iâ€™ve struggled for decades even to find a conclusive definition of it â€“ so I donâ€™t feel strongly about its future.Â 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 â€œspread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.â€
Mike Bell: I had been commenting on Internet Monk for about two years when I first read this paragraph.Â Â 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.Â So I offered to write a couple of articles showing the statistical support for his ideas.Â Michael graciously accepted.Â Â The articles can be found here and here.
The first post in particular shows how Baptists, as a significant representative sample ofÂ 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%.Â Other evangelical groups face similar horizons.
Lisa Dye: Iâ€™m not gifted in spotting trends and I havenâ€™t made a study of this topic, so canâ€™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 donâ€™t think heâ€™s alone in thinking this. A pastor in my family has been expressing similar thoughts for a few years. Â How does it make me feel? Sad. What is my first reaction when I read this? Itâ€™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 donâ€™t think that is what he is saying. Heâ€™s talking about the whole system of evangelicalism and its prominence and impact in the public culture. Evangelicalism gained its prominence in the 1980â€˜s, 90â€˜s, and 00â€™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 â€œmoralistic therapeutic deismâ€â€”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 worldâ€™s attention and be much of a force in days to come.
Adam Palmer: My first reaction is to say, â€œItâ€™s about time.â€ Thereâ€™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, Iâ€™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 â€œChristian,â€ but whose souls are lost? Â Lisa?
LD: â€œFeelâ€ 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 weâ€™ve abandoned thinking for feeling, objectivity for subjectivity and theology for sentimentality. This trend wasnâ€™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 â€“ in her church. I envied her.
M of I: Iâ€™m laughing here, but with, not at, you.Â 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.Â 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?Â The nuns and brothers concentrated on the â€œsocial justiceâ€ and â€œhow do you feel?â€ elements (what I came to think of as the â€˜hello trees, hello skyâ€™ 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?Â I donâ€™t have any, except that (1) teach them doctrine â€“ not feel-good stuff, not discussions about doing good in the world, but a solid basis for â€œthis is why we believe the things we doâ€ (2) yes, the parents should be teaching them all this, and (3) it doesnâ€™t matter what you do, come teenage/young adult years, the first thing everyone will do is stop going to Church.Â Theyâ€™ll come back later when they get older (generally when they settle down, marry, and start a family) but for the years when theyâ€™re out in the world and church is boring/irrelevant/I donâ€™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 â€œthereâ€™s a reason for faithâ€ then it will stand to them and be there for when they come back.Â Otherwise, if all they ever had was feel-good fluff, theyâ€™ll never come back â€“ 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 couldâ€™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 Iâ€™ve been on an upward path since then. Itâ€™s taken me into a lot of ditches, mostly legalistic in nature, but Iâ€™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.Â 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.Â 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 â€œministriesâ€ have come to define the faith more than the core institutions. Even the â€œchurchesâ€ that attract the most people resemble contemporary â€œChristian cultureâ€ 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 didnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 Iâ€™m too old for this same thought to apply to high school and college students today, but I donâ€™t think so. When I talk to young people about faith, history and the Bible they listen â€“ 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 Jesusâ€™ 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.Â Children have become ghetto-ized, isolated from adults, and forced to form age-group packs: in school, in Sunday school and â€œchildrenâ€™s church,â€ in daycare, etc.Â The evangelical churches have been one of the worst about treating children as if theyâ€™re a different species from adults.Â 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. Â How many children in evangelical churches sit through a whole church service with their parents?Â Some do, but most donâ€™t.Â Even the childrenâ€™s sermon is just a give-away that kids arenâ€™t expected to get anything out of the â€œadultâ€ church service.Â These people are sending the children to the amusement park while everyone else is in school and then asking why they donâ€™t know any math or literature or history.
Modern Christians need to consider what children really are and what they really need.Â 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.Â There must have been some token â€œBible connection,â€ but whatâ€™s really shocking is what this reveals about the leadersâ€™ philosophy about kids.Â Kids like gross, revolting, shocking things.Â Kids arenâ€™t interested in ideas, or right and wrong.Â Kids are really more like wild animals than adults.Â 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.Â How does eating chocolate out of diapers â€“ or even gluing beans on plates â€“ help the â€œleast of theseâ€ grow into what God has planned?Â Itâ€™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 â€œMere Christianity,â€ 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 renewalâ€¦ 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.Â 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:
â€œâ€¦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 â€¦ to do so on purpose – prayerfully, seriously, communallyâ€¦â€
In my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, a similar organization, called True City, has mobilized churches with a similar goal.Â 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 donâ€™t have a very broad perspective on this, but I will cite one example that I find encouraging. In Lake County, Illinois, in Chicagoâ€™s northern suburbs, 45 churches have come together despite denominational and theological differences and are cooperating in mission together. They call themselves, â€œChrist Together,â€ 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 churchâ€™s own ministry, in an effort to reach their entire region with the gospel and ministries of compassion. This is what John Armstrong calls, â€œmissional ecumenism,â€ and I think it holds great promise.
LD: I hear about it, but donâ€™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 wouldnâ€™t come. Finally, he literally pitched a tent among them and cooked the meals on camp stoves. He was overwhelmed with takers â€“ both of food and the Gospel. â€˜Missionalâ€™ seems to mean more than inviting people to church now; it means taking church to them. If weâ€™re willing to be open to going places weâ€™ve never been and doing things weâ€™ve never done, then â€œChristian vitality and ministryâ€ can, and probably will be born.
M of I: I see small shoots here and there.Â Different from what I knew as “church.” Â Naturally, I tend to huff and puff about â€œThis isnâ€™t the real way to do itâ€ (rather in the same mood as â€œThis doesnâ€™t taste like how Mother used to make itâ€) but as I said earlier, this is not necessarily a bad thing.Â You canâ€™t put the new wine in old wineskins.
DZ: I donâ€™t really know if there will be a reform within evangelicalism or if people will take off to other branches of Christianity.Â Iâ€™m not sure if we should even look for â€œnew forms of Christian vitality and ministry.â€Â Constantly looking toward newness is dangerous, because we can never know anything about it.Â We can understand something of the past, of old â€œforms of Christian vitality and ministry,â€ and we can see and experience the present as the arena where God calls us to service and obedience.Â But pursuing newness â€“ â€œNew kinds of church structure, new uses of gifts, new ways to develop leaders and do the missionâ€ â€“ for its own sake is dangerous.Â Mostly we are mistaken when we think something is new.Â 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 arenâ€™t going to start waiting for â€œThe Churchâ€ to start authorizing what they do. Theyâ€™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: Thereâ€™ll always be people who want to flock to a specific church because of the pastorâ€™s personality or because itâ€™s the â€œcoolâ€ place to go. Thereâ€™ll always be people who basically attend church on Sunday as a means of checking a box (thatâ€™s the same as â€œticking,â€ Martha) on their to-do list and fulfilling that weekâ€™s religion requirement.
Aside from those folks, though, I think house church and small, intimate gatheringsâ€”even monastic-type communitiesâ€”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, Iâ€™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.Â 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.Â A number of Canadaâ€™s fastest growing churches insist that being part of a home church or small group is critical to spiritual growth within their church.Â â€œThe Meeting Houseâ€ is a single church with multiple campuses, and with now 166 house churches meeting regularly.Â The lead preaching pastor lives a few blocks from me in a tiny little house.Â This is also communicates a lot to me.
JD: That would say a lot to me as well, but Iâ€™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. Â Iâ€™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 Iâ€™m Catholic myself) and (3) either fizzle out once the novelty wears off or veer into outright heresy.Â 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.Â Also such homegrown efforts such as Focolare.Â 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.Â Leaving these issues unresolved will be far more dangerous for evangelical Christianity than a skewed budget.
And I donâ€™t really see a house church movement per se â€“ more a halfway house church movement.Â Iâ€™ve seen people who participate in a new house church because of disillusionment with what theyâ€™ve experienced in institutional Christianity, but typically they donâ€™t stay in a house church.Â 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 shouldnâ€™t be taught “church growth techniques?” Lisa?
LD: Iâ€™ve been in a church led by a pastor who wasnâ€™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 â€œbusinessâ€ responsibilities that they donâ€™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.Â Many seminaries donâ€™t do a good job and fall short in a wide variety of ways.Â They should be reformed but not abandoned.Â However, to repeat what I said earlier, seminaries will have to address the deeper issues of accountability, interdependence, and authority.
M of I: Again, different model from Catholicism.Â 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 didnâ€™t understand and couldnâ€™t explain the doctrines they were failing to teach the clergy.Â 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! Â 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 propheticâ€”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: Iâ€™m sure Michaelâ€™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, itâ€™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 Michaelâ€™s diagnosis and shortly before he passed, so I donâ€™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. Michaelâ€™s voice was distinctive and influential, and I regret that I didnâ€™t come along for the ride much, much sooner.
M of I: I agree, Adam. God rest the man, I miss him.Â 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.Â A season of pruning back is no bad thing.
CM: I donâ€™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 â€œcollapseâ€ 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 donâ€™t think the country or the culture would suddenly go to hell in a hand basket.
JD: Come on, Chaplain—donâ€™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 â€œpost-evangelical wilderness.â€ 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 â€œ-ism.â€
LD: I think Michael was being both observant and prophetic on the subject, though, as I said in the beginning, Iâ€™m not gifted in spotting trends and havenâ€™t made a formal study of the topic, so maybe my free-range thoughts shouldnâ€™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 â€¦ 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. Yâ€™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 donâ€™t have anything invested in evangelicalism as distinct from Christianity.Â If evangelicalism can be repaired in a way that glorifies Christ and unites the Body, then all power to it.Â 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 Michaelâ€™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.