Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, part 3

I've been blogging the past few days about Michael Spencer's article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled: The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism.

After assessing reasons for why he predicts that evangelism will collapse in the next 10 years, and what will be left, he makes the statement: "Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout (we are all so excited about those these days), it needs a funeral.

But what about what remains? He asks:

Is it a good thing that denominations are largely to become irrelevant?
Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshall resources, training, and vision to the mission field and into planting and equipping 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 maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate ones.

The ascendency of the 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 very 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 more about renewed vigor to "evangelize" Protestantism in the name of unity.

Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallownemss that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. He expects the landscape of the megachurch to be around for a very long time.

Will it shake loose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? History is not that encouraging.

It doesn't sound too hopeful, does it?

No, if we look at it from our evangelical vantage point. But, when we back up and consider the Bible and recent history, I am anticipatory for some extraodinary days ahead:

The Bible teaches us that when the Holy Spirit came upon the Jesus followers in the upper room waiting for their promise, a revival started that lasted for 300 years. It was only when the powerful, life transforming witness of the Jesus followers became the official religion of the State, that things began to shift for the worse.

We often equate freedom of worship with success. My view of China points to the opposite. When the missionaries were forced out of China because it became illegal, the fire was lit and new believers were born with increasing speed.

When the church is forced into smaller communities, the power of invitation becomes life altaring. Deep friendships are formed, and lives of faith are lit on fire!

When we begin to live with a realization that Jesus taught us to seriously "take up our cross daily and follow him," we understand that we have freedom in our faith, but losing freedom in our culture re-inforces that following Jesus is a faith worth dying for.

The next 10 years is the separation from the Christian era to the post Christian era. We will need to live differently, but Jesus' Church is not going to die. It's going to be refined, purified, brought back to the origins of the basic commands of Jesus and the power behind it, and that, I think is a very good thing!

Spencer ends his article by stating this: "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, number, 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."

After reading these blogs and thinking through the implications, I'd love to hear your viewpoints on what you believe will happen in the coming days, and the next 10 years.

1 comment:

Sean Davidson said...

A lot of what Spencer says rings true—not only concerning his predictions re: evangelicalism but also concerning some of the forgotten priorities of the church. To me, the manner with which he says it rings false.

Spencer isn’t just predicting the imminent death of evangelicalism. He wants the movement to die and he expresses this desire seeming to stand above it all (he’s a “post-evangelical” after all), apparently caring little about real casualties at a local level.

I'm troubled by Spencer's conflation of churches that stand in the evangelical tradition with evangelicalism and the need he seems to feel for a defunct evangelicalism to pass away in order for a new improved evangelicalism to take its place.

Notice that Spencer does not identify himself positively as a follower of Jesus who is looking to participate in the church Jesus is building wherever and however it comes (he may in fact want to identify himself like this, but he doesn’t). Instead, he identifies himself negatively in relation to a movement he believes is on the verge of collapse and dreams of a new movement that can come only when the current regime pass away.

Spencer critiques evangelicalism for buying into a cause (I think he’s right), but the manner of his critique is overly ideological and he makes it in the interests of alternative cause that will result from a kind of revolution.

This is all so modernistic in spirit. And there's a cynicism in it, a cynicism that masks an ungodly idealism--kind of like the cynicism/idealism that Bonhoeffer speaks of _Life Together_:

"It is only the cynic who claims to 'speak the truth' at all times and in all places to all men in the same way, but who, in fact, displays nothing but a lifeless image of the truth. He dons the halo of the fanatical devotee of truth who can make no allowance for human weaknesses; but, in fact, he is destroying the living truth between men. He wounds shame, desecrates mystery, breaks confidence, betrays the community in which he lives, and laughs arrogantly at the devastation he has wrought and at the human weakness which 'cannot bear the truth.' He says truth is destructive and demands its victims, and he feels like a god above these feeble creatures."

To find ourselves involved in churches that stand in the evangelical tradition is not the same thing as being devotees of a movement known as evangelicalism with all of its obvious problems. We are not called either to support or spurn a movement. We are called to participate in the church that Jesus is building right here where we are at this time funded by the best of a tradition. And we are called to do so while guarding against the temptation to advance agendas of our own making--whether optimistically or pessimistically.