Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Christianity loves a crumbling empire."

Here is an interesting essay entitled "The coming evangelical collapse." I present it here because the subject has ramifications for everyone beyond whether or not you're an evangelical, or indeed, whether or not you're Christian. I agree with some of the author's conclusions and disagree with others, but here in a nutshell is what I think the future holds:

In a time of chaos, deprivation and disintegration of the social order, churches have always been havens. This has been good and bad, for throughout history religious institutions have most often sided with the government, any government, even of the bandit kind, in order to preserve the bricks, mortar, money and property of the church/synagogue, etc.

Yet in an age when the government becomes the principal agent of religious intolerance, any church worth the name will become a center of resistance and a sanctuary for guerrillas of all stripes.

In a time of physical want, the ministries of these churches will be focused on things like souplines and fall-back social services.

Depression Era Christian Charity: A Food Line

We Three Percenters need to be thinking of how to assist those churches, synagogues, etc. which resist the Leviathan and help them become vital centers of those "resilient communities" John Robb's always talking about over at Global Guerrillas.

Oh, yeah, and it wouldn't hurt some of you libertarian heathens to get a little exposure to God while you're about it. ;-)


The coming evangelical collapse

An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise.

By Michael Spencer
from the March 10, 2009 edition, Christian Science Monitor

Oneida, Ky. - We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

Why is this going to happen?

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

What will be left?

•Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.

•Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the "conversion" of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

•A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from its demise through theological renewal. This is an attractive, innovative, and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing, and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches.

•The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.

•Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear.

•Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion? To do so, it must make a priority of biblical authority, responsible leadership, and a reemergence of orthodoxy.

•Evangelicalism needs a "rescue mission" from the world Christian community. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. Will they come? Will they be able to bring to our culture a more vital form of Christianity?

•Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.

Is all of this a bad thing?

Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral. But what about what remains?

Is it a good thing that denominations are going to become largely irrelevant? Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshal resources, training, and vision to the mission field and into the planting and equipping of churches.

Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart? Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership. We must change the conversation from the maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate ones.

The ascendency of Charismatic-Pentecostal-influenced worship around the world can be a major positive for the evangelical movement if reformation can reach those churches and if it is joined with the calling, training, and mentoring of leaders. If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Holy Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing.

Will the evangelicalizing of Catholic and Orthodox communions be a good development? One can hope for greater unity and appreciation, but the history of these developments seems to be much more about a renewed vigor to "evangelize" Protestantism in the name of unity.

Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. The purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.

Will it shake lose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? Evidence from similar periods is not encouraging. American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success.

The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.

Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, "Christianity loves a crumbling empire."

We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.

We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture.

I'm not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential?

• Michael Spencer is a writer and communicator living and working in a Christian community in Kentucky. He describes himself as "a postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality." This essay is adapted from a series on his blog, InternetMonk.com .


jon said...

"1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism."

this is tip-toeing around it at best: evangelicals came out in support of the state.

they came out to vote their culture into others' lives and livelihoods. but government is force, and christ taught that he who lives by the sword, dies by it. and so will go the movement. it hasn't even gotten ugly yet, and when it does, heathen socialists will surely paint a broad picture with that brush.

there is probably a new christianity coming. with any luck, it will be fully conscious of the role of government (or government services, if you like) in society, and especially of the mechanism of statism -- because the enemy certainly will.

"Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive."

suicide. a face? more like "a more socialist mask." what did the political equivalent of this strategy do for conservative republicans? it gutted the movement and let the left-wing neocons pick and choose the tasty morsels.

it will become necessary to avoid at all cost the trimmings of socialism. at the core of this is fiat money, which demands faith and deference to political power. survival on this is no survival at all.

Anonymous said...

Ya know, Mike, one CAN be a 'libertarian' (especially of the Constitutional variety) and not necessarily be a "heathen"!

Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Doc, I know. You DID see the winking smiley face, right?

Anonymous said...

Of course I did! Just trying to figure out if it was a sardonic winking smiley face!!!


closed said...

You do not want to see this libertarian "expose" himself to God or the church.

Just sayin'.

Jon Roland said...

The decline in some forms of evangelism will come from what will be increasingly perceived as wrong-headed positions on secular issues:

1. Opposition to evolution based on literalistic reading of (some translation of) the (approved) books of the Bible that a little education will reveal was never intended to be taken literally.

2. Opposition to same-sex marriage based on the misguided perception that it contributes to the weakening of opposite-sex marriage, when the real cause is that we fail to raise our children to be mature persons who are fit for marriage.

3. Opposition to abortion as "murder" when people can perceive that personhood requires some minimal level of mental capacity that a fetus doesn't have.

4. Using a feeling of religious euphoria as a substitute for faith that expresses itself in civic work, especially resistance to injustice done to oters.

5. Encouraging a simplistic belief that being good will be materially rewarded in this life by God rather than only by other human beings, when what should be sought is virtue that might be rewarded in an afterlife, and is its own reward in this one.

6. Bible-thumping as an intrusive and unwelcome way to testify to one's faith.

I could go on but these will do for the moment.

CCK said...

Sorry Mike as a conservative Catholic (small l) libertarian, I don't have a lot of love for the evangelical movement. And can't work up a whole lot of sympathy.
As Jon astutely pointed out, Social Conservatives (evangelicals for the most part) clamored for Big Government. Gay marriage bans, directed government funding for their pet causes (stem cell research). All places where government doesn't belong.
So if this means less Jerry Falwell's and Pat Robertson's getting involved in government policy, I consider it a 'win'
Add to that the fact that I've never understood the "born again" concept (why didn't it work out right the first time?). And the fact that in addition to the begging for government interference to "save them from themselves" I've never met a "born again" that wasn't a total douche in their previous life.

Anonymous said...

Ach, Jeez, already... can't a guy just go to hell in his own go-cart if he wants to?

Anonymous said...


I ain't proselytizing here. Nor am I an evangelical. I've never been a mega-church guy (always struck me as monuments to the egos of the ministers who built them with other people's money) nor of televangelists.

I'll be happy to have all you "heatherns" on my flanks come to that. I'm just trying to point out a dynamic that we should not ignore.

Billy, if you want to go to hell in a go-kart, you certainly won't find me standing on the track, any more than I want kbarrett "exposing himself." This is, after all, a family blog.

You can't stop me from prayin' for y'all, though. It's my "wasted breath" not yours.

Johnny said...

One of my favorite film quotes might cheer up Billy: "You've got it all wrong holy man. I absolutely do believe in God. And I hate the fucker."

On the other hand, empirically derived principles (IMHO) don't end up so much different from some interpretations derived from Christian theology. Or maybe that's just me.

Whatever, the new-age socialist BS that's (apparently) in the ascendant doesn't bear any resemblance to actual phenomenal reality.

GunRights4US said...

No such semi-theological post would be complete without a scriptural quote. And I've got the perfect one in mind:

2 Thessalonians 2:3
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

Anonymous said...

The sooner the Evangelicals can get out of the political arena, the better. They've done more damage to Christianity than they realize by becoming another political faction. Jesus deserves better than this.

And Mike, I will toss an extra goat on the sacrificial fire for you and your Christian God. :)

Anonymous said...

I have always thought and heard that the Lord will come in the twinkling of an eye, the dead shall rise first, and the believers will be "caught up" with the Lord, in the air.
(1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

So many evangelicals believe that the Lord will come, and the church will no longer exist, since Christians will be taken out of here. The world will be left to the non-believers. Most of the evangelicals I know, live in conclaves already, and believe that the Lord will retrieve them before any true suffering will happen.

As a side note, this was fully explained to me sitting under the instruction of a preacher, in a small country church, that is not affilated with any particular religion or denomination.

Anonymous said...

They guy's wrong Mike.

We are looking at a stage set for the rise of the Anti-Christ, and the Great Tribulation.

The heathen can laugh all they want. They can enjoy the Devil ruling over them — although I really don't think they will.

He is right about one thing: Tying Christianity to a political movement was and is totally unbiblical and stupid.

Mike H said...

"We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century."

I foresaw this years ago as a Lutheran student minister. I used to include it in sermons. Doubtless one of the reasons the megalomaniacal bishop I dealt with did not like me.

'Imagine a Church without walls. A Church of living and doing.....'

Anonymous said...

Raised as an Evangelical, I rebelled against Christianity in my late teens and soon found myself pretty close to being a full blown Atheist. Later in my thirties I stumbled upon the writings of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson on the subject of "Deism" and the issues they had with the "revealed religions". Like them, I consider Jesus to be a great philosopher, but draw the line with the miracle stories, etc... I believe in intelligent design AND evolution. I consider myself a "Deist" because I do believe in God, and I'm not affiliated with any of the revealed religions.

I do love the Republic (from a Minarchist's perspective it's tough these days though when FASCISM is the name of the game), and as long as someone is not pushing their agenda down my throat I can get along with anyone. That's why when the war starts, and it is coming, this Libertarian (yes, a big 'L') will be next to people of all faiths, races and creeds fighting for freedom. Because God gave us life and the ability to reason, and I reason that it is in my nature to truly want to be free. And dammit, I will be before I die!

Here's one reason I'm a little ticked off...When someone spends their entire adult life paying for a house to have a little freedom, and the effn government still gets their mafia cut right to when and after you die, that's not freedom, that's serfdom. From the cradle to the grave they've got our arses, and the way they're pushing on our backs now it won't take long for people to rise up in mass and do what should have been done a long time ago, hit the reset button (and no, not Billary's).

The GOP shot themselves in the foot with the Evangelical political wing many moons ago.

Anonymous said...

Jon Roland good ta see ya. Where did you post the "tactical nuke in a suitcase video" you filmed 21DEC08?

Jon Roland said...

Links to videos of me speaking at militis musters here

rexxhead said...

As a recovering Catholic, I have little to add which has not already been eloquently (or otherwise) posited.

Sean said...

So there, Jon, if you were injured or diseased so that you became brain-damaged, (G*d forbid), but otherwise physically ok, but didn't meet your own level of minimal mental capacity, are you no longer a "person" and can be killed?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Jon.

Anonymous said...

Sean, good call. Or how about a sleeping person? Once their rational processes have ceased for the night, can we snuff 'em? (Fetuses have brain waves too, of course.) Mark this well: there is only life, or non-life. There is no middle ground known as "potential life." There are potential adults, and potential toddlers, but no potential human beings. Either you're human or you're not.

Jon Roland said...

Sean asks an interesting question about what can be done to me if I become a vege. The answer is not so simple.

Once a being becomes a person, even if he loses his sui juris status, he remains a person in law, if only as an "estate", which, essentially, "owns" the body. To legally kill me the estate has to be probated and the "asset" disposed of according to the decision of the court. However, until the probate is closed the estate lives on. So legal "death" is more involved than just having the body flatline.

Jon Roland said...

The brain waves of a sleeping person continue while asleep. The brain waves of a fetus start suddenly at about the 145-day point, which raises the argument for deeming it a person at that point. However, the definition of "person" at the time the Constitution was adopted was that it began at birth, not conception, and not some point in between, like "quickening". It would take an amendment to change that.

Actually, official personhood in some jurisdictions sometimes did not begin at birth but when the birth was registered, entered into the family Bible, or the baby was baptised or christened. So many newborns died soon after birth that it was not considered a person until it seemed likely to survive.

That having been said, apparently my brain flatlined during a heart operation in 1999, for several hours. The doctors were ready to pull the plug but couldn't find anyone with the authority to okay it. Needless to say, they were surprised when brain activity resumed, and more surprised when I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Sometime during that period, and for about as long as I was flatlined, I had a experience of being "on the other side". Fascinating. But no answers, just more questions and a sense I still had a job to do here.

I'm not finished yet.

Anonymous said...

I probably read all the comments too fast, but it appears that the sleeping giant that was not mentioned is the home church movement. I think we can look at history and the situations in other countries where Christianity is persecuted and come up with a pretty plausible argument that the home church movement will be a large and likely reaction. Just my buck three eighty.