Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Coming Evangelical Collapse

That's the title of this wonderful ditty from Michael Spencer in the Christian Science Monitor. Basically, he's saying that the 21st century is going to see a major meltdown in the evangelical movement. I personally believe him because a huge chunk of what he sees going down is exactly what happened to us Catholics in the last 50 years. Let's take a look at his reasons:

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.

Ok, so this one doesn't apply to us so much. So many Catholics don't believe in any causes, much less the faith, that this one doesn't count. However, as the orthodox Catholic has no choice but to participate in the culture war, Spencer's predictions here regarding evangelicals are already coming true to a large extent. Note the recent crap in Connecticut and the gay marriage stuff from California. Not to mention some of the statements made about, say Catholic judges.

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.

Amen. Catholics, for some insane reason, thought that bringing in secular influences and turning the Mass into a rock concert was good for the youth and good for the Church. Instead, what you had was a bunch of feel-good nonsense and made the most awesome act in the world into something just like everything else kids do. Meanwhile, they don't even know how to say a Rosary.

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.

I think he's right here as well, but these labels don't really fit us so well. For us, you basically have four types, I think: dying churches, heretical churches, faithful churches, and status quo churches that are maintaining their numbers but not doing much else.

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.

Catechetics sucks. We haven't even been talking to ourselves. The doctrinal content of most programs has been completely gutted since folks stopped using the Baltimore Catechism.

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.

We have been seeing this for some time. Folks have been pushing "social justice" as their prime concern, rather than preaching the Faith and saving souls. Liberation theology was a symptom of this disease to some extent. Also recall the idiotic comment from the BC student at the close of this post.

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.

These are more like consequences of the other items, rather than causes of their own.

Spencer goes on to give what he thinks will be the downstream effects of all this, and then poses the question of whether or not this is really such a bad thing. I'd say not at all, especially if this predection comes to pass:

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.

Let's hope and pray that Marcus Grodi will be a busy man in the years to come.

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