The Evangelical Collapse

Yesterday, Challies linked to an article by Collin Hansen at Christianity Today about the top ten theology stories of 2009.  Included on his list was a series of three posts from January 2009 by the Internet Monk (IM).

In his first post, IM predicted that “we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity” that will “herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian west and will change the way tens of millions of people see the entire realm of religion.”  He identifies seven factors that will contribute to the collapse of evangelical Christianity:

  1. evangelicals’ identification of their mission with political conservatism and the culture war, which will lead to defeat and scapegoating;
  2. failure to pass the evangelical Christian faith on to young people in an orthodox form, resulting in generations of Christians who will be “monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures that they will endure”
  3. the growth of consumer-driven mega churches and shrinking of other evangelical churches;
  4. the fact that the “ingrown, self-evaluated ghetto of evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself”;
  5. the eventual weakening of the missional-compassionate work of the evangelical movement;
  6. the growth in the Bible belt of a “de-church culture where religion has meaning as history, not as a vital reality”; and
  7. dwindling resources with the passing of the baton from the “greatest generation” to the Baby Boomers.

In his second post, IM looks at what will remain following the collapse of evangelical Christianity.  Expect, he says, something that looks a lot like the pragmatic, growth-oriented mega churches that abound today, with a further departure from Biblical doctrine and increasing emphasis on relevance, motivation and personal success.  Other predictions include:

  • A “small, but active and vocal portion of evangelicalism,” including “assertive young reformed pastors looking toward a second reformation,” will “work hard to rescue the evangelical movement from its demise by way of theological renewal.”  He’s not optimistic, though, that this will lead to a second reformation.
  • Fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear and will exist only as a dying form of church.  “The ‘Jerry Falwell-Jerry Vines’ type of fundamentalist Baptist will become a museum piece by the middle of the century.”
  • One hope may be a “rescue mission” from the world Christian community, with missionaries coming to America from Asia and Africa.  He doesn’t know whether they’ll come, but he prays they will.

In his third post, IM looks at whether an evangelical collapse would be a good or bad thing.  He agrees with Michael Horton’s conclusion that what’s ailing evangelicalism is that evangelicals have largely abandoned the most basic calling of the church: “the preservation and communication of the essentials of the Gospel in the church itself.”  So what’s the cure?  IM suggests that “there is something fundamentally healthy about accepting that, if the disease cannot be cured, then the symptoms need to run their course and we need to get to the next chapter.  Evangelicalism doesn’t need a bailout.  Much of it needs a funeral.” (emphasis mine).

IM concludes on a hopeful note, saying “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. . . . In fact, I hope that many IM readers will be part of the movement to create a 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.”

Very interesting and thought-provoking stuff.

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