Michael Spencer recently published an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled: The coming Evangelical Collapse (March 10, 2009). In it he gives 7 reasons why he sees this collapse coming within 10 years and “Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants“. Let’s look at each of those reasons:
1. “Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society….We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.” While I understand Spencer’s concern here, I’m not sure all of it is valid. If Christianity is to be vibrant and relative it must engage all aspects of a believers life and this engagement must include “moral, social and political issues”. When I was a Christian, I never understood the concept that your religion is private and shouldn’t impact your public life. If religion has any power at all it demands your public and private life. The problem here, as I see it, is not that Christians are engaging in causes; rather, the vast majority of those who claim Christ are keeping their religion a private matter. If you believe something deeply it must infuse your entire life, whether you are a believer or non-believer. Unfortunately, those believers that were the most visible were also extreme in their beliefs and these extreme policies are having a negative impact. In addition holding onto “truths” that no longer have a scientific or even moral basis makes their movement increasingly obsolete. You may believe the world is flat but don’t expect your beliefs to be taken seriously. I don’t see an out for evangelical Christianity here. They must engage the world but doing so with untrue Biblical “truths” is bad for society and bad for their movement.
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… (we have) produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it.” Absolutely. The church has reached out to younger people by substituting entertainment for doctrine. Churches have trained their congregations to seek after and value the church that has the best entertainment, the best singers, the best plays, and the most dynamic, showy sermons.
3. “There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile.” Here Spencer forgets a growing movement of churches that are rejecting consumer-driven megachurches and are focusing on serious worship and a solid doctrinal foundation. The Reformed Baptist movement is one of these; however, these groups are small and rigidly control their congregations. In this sense, they are fragile and will probably not last past a few generations.
4. “Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.” Of course it can’t since it has no doctrinal basis and often contradicts social and societal norms, not to mention scientific facts. It’s only defense is the “bible says so”, which is increasingly losing the power and force it once had. Such reasons sound shallow and trite in today’s world.
5. “Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.” Could this be because a religion based on 2000+ year old values, morals and superstitions is becoming increasingly irrelevant in this technologically advanced society? At one time, the church could force it’s view on it’s congregation and they would believe it, but now a simple Internet search on any subject will show wide ranges of belief even within the Christian fold. It’s becoming harder and harder to become dogmatic.
6. “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.” It gets harder and harder to pass on such “truths” without withdrawing from society, because you have to bury your head in the sand to seriously say the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God. Recent best sellers are pressing home the facts of serious biblical scholarship to an ever widening circle of churched people. This scholarship is in direct conflict with the cherished doctrines of many believers.
7. “The money will dry up.” When a religion becomes entertainment driven and an increasingly irrelevant force in society, people find better things to do with their money.
The Evangelical church has painted itself into a corner that is becoming increasingly difficult to escape from. On one hand they want to affirm the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible. On the other hand science is confronting the church with facts that undermine the authority of the Bible. As the church pushes back they are increasingly seen as backward, obstructionist, head in the stand ostriches that oppose scientific truths and societal norms. The harder they push the more “public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.” Yet if they don’t push back their message blends with that of society and they become a mere fixture of the past and nothing more than a social organization of like-minded individuals.
If they accept the inconsistencies and errors in the Bible they hold so dear and use it as a guide picking and choosing what is relevant, their solid moral compass becomes less and less absolute and more and more situational, something they hate. Yet, they don’t understand that they do pick and chose what they want from the Bible all they while maintaining they don’t. As Dr. Ehrman said: “Some people may think that it is a dangerous attitude to take toward the Bible, to pick and choose what you want to accept and throw everything else out. My view is that everyone already picks and chooses what they want to accept in the Bible.” (Jesus Interrupted, Kindle Edition 4333-36) No one kills their child for disobedience or kills someone for breaking the Sabbath. Most churches don’t even honor the Sabbath and have made a whole lists of excuses why that particular commandment is not valid for today.
I don’t see the evangelical church going away anytime soon, as they love to play the martyr game, but I do see them becoming increasingly irrelevant and marginalized in society similar to how the Amish are viewed today.