Category Archives: Christian Living

Reflecting on the Predicted Evangelical Collapse 8 Years Later

 

Something interesting happened in 2009 that recently caught my attention.  As noted in the post Nominal Christianity and the Christian Bookstore, on March 10, 2009 I commented on a religious survey that highlighted the decreasing religiosity of Americans.  In that post, Survey shows a Falling Away, I stated:

The fact of the matter is we are crossing over the threshold of the Final Apostasy.  Soon we’ll see the denominational wall fall completely as these churches begin to combine through their own false interpretations of the Bible.  I believe we’ll begin to see the atheist/agnostic movement pick up speed as they continue their assault on Christianity and the Word of God.  Look at what’s already going on in Great Britain.  We’ll continue to embrace other world religions as the world seeks an Ecumenical balance.  False movements and leaders will seemingly pop-up over night, much like the Emerging Church movement with people preaching with the Bible in one hand, but not speaking the Truth.  II Thessalonians 2:11-12 “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

That same day, Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, published his widely read series, The Coming Evangelical Collapse, which sent shock-waves through the blogosphere and online evangelical media outlets.  As recently as a few months ago, I was listening to a sermon by Brian Borgman in which he referenced and commented on this post by the late Spencer and it reminded me of the “prophetic” voice that his post had.

Spencer introduced his thesis with the following shocking prediction:

“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.”

Here we stand, eight years after this prognostication that looked 10 years into the evangelical future and we must take inventory by asking whether there was merit in the words of Spencer and what the current condition of the Evangelical landscape is.  Let’s pause here to provide a general definition of evangelicalism:

Our modern evangelicalism was essentially birthed out of the fundamentalist vs. liberalism movement of the late 1800s – 1920s.  It was a correction to the staunch fundmentalism of the day over and against the liberalism that was infiltrating schools of higher education and mainline protestant denominations.  Evangelicalism was a middle ground so to speak, albeit mushy and ecumenical.  George Marsden defines the movement as, “any Christians traditional enough to affirm the basic beliefs of the old nineteenth-century evangelical consensus” which includes, “1. The Reformation doctrine of the final authority of the Bible 2. The real historic character of God’s saving work recorded in Scripture 3. Salvation to eternal life based on the redemptive work of Christ 4. The importance of evangelism and missions 5. The importance of a spiritually transformed life.”

So then, evangelicalism, if it can be defined clearly, is a broad movement and its foray into the political realm, particularly within the last 50 years, has been well documented.  I maintain that Evangelicalism is nothing more that conservative Christendom.  If you have time, listen to this 10-minute description by Phil Johnson, I posted from 2009: What is an evangelical?

Returning to Spencer, without question we can affirm that the 21st century is rapidly becoming, “very secular and religiously antagonistic”.

Likewise we are seeing unfold right before our eyes “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.

Spencer went on to outline the reasons Why this collapse was imminent, the first of which, I believe, will largely usher in the forthcoming collapse.

“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.

Why do I see this this as the most significant “Why” of Spencer’s article?

Because it’s happening with rapidity since the latest presidential election.  Evangelicalism began to align itself with conservative politics in the late 1970’s early 1980’s with the goal of reclaiming the culture.  In a sense, they became cultural warriors to such a degree that the distinction between political conservatism and evangelicalism disappeared altogether.  To be Republican was to be Evangelical and vice versa.  To be Democrat was to be theologically liberal and vice versa.  Politics then became good vs. evil, sinners vs. saints, etc.  When a Republican won the presidency it was God’s divine intervention and blessing; when a Democrat won it was time to “hunker-down” for the spread of evil throughout the land.  The most recent election was hailed as a victory for Evangelicalism, but I think in the long run it will prove to have been a death-blow.  The backlash of this poorly reasoned political alignment will be harsh.

Where Evangelicalism has failed was in assuming their role was primarily cultural instead of primarily religious.  You simply cannot “preach” morality to a cultural that is blinded by sin and under the rule of the god of this age.  This is true in the most basic arguments used against abortion and for traditional marriage.  This is why these arguments are often made into political talking points and partisan politics.  Why should we be surprised when hearts darkened to the majesty of God uphold Roe vs. Wade or decide the fate of marriage via the Obergefell Decision?  To what is Evangelicalism appealing to?  Politics?  Morality? The unbelieving conscience that has been darkened by sin?  To justice?  Apart from the Word of God, how are we to determine what is just?  The primary clarion call should have been and should be repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

George Eldon Ladd offers wisdom on this matter in the following quote:

Here is the root evil: blindness, darkness, unbelief.  The Biblical philosophy of sin makes ethical and moral evil secondary to religious evil.

All forms of wickedness ultimately grow out of the root of ungodliness. Sin is primarily religious and secondarily ethical.  Man is God’s creature and his primary responsibility is towards God.  The root of sin is found in his refusal to acknowledge in grateful dependence the gifts and the goodness of God (Rom. 1:21), which are now imparted in Christ.  Darkness is the assertion of independence rather than God-dependence.

The primary manifestation of satanic influence and of the evil of This Age is religious; it is blindness with reference to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  How often we fail to understand satanic devices!  A man may be a cultured, ethical and even religious person and yet be in demonic darkness.  Satan’s basic desire is to keep men from Christ.  His primary concern is not to corrupt morals nor to make atheists nor to produce enemies of religion.  Indeed religion which rests upon the assumption of human adequacy and sufficiency is an enemy of the light.  This is the character of the Age of this world: darkness.

Contrary to Ladd, modern Evangelicalism has made ethical and moral evil primary to religion, in essence desiring to treat the symptom rather than the disease.  As I look back on this article 8 years later, the single biggest factor, in my humble opinion, that will contribute to the collapse of evangelicalism will be the failure to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of the gospel cultural Christianity.

Let me conclude with an additional quote from my own post I wrote on March 10, 2009

“If the Body of Christ is to survive all of these paradigm shifts, we must unite with one voice with the Bible as our foundation.  We must preach “Christ crucified” and rebuke those who deem it “offensive”.  II Timothy 4:2, I Corinthians 9:18 As the Apostle Paul says, “…We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” I Corinthians 1:23

Our message of Salvation must be clear: repentance of sins, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and faithful acceptance of Him as Savior.  We cannot sugar coat the alternative, “The wages of sin is death” but through our repentance, belief, and acceptance, “The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

If we as a “church” can do this and I believe we can, we’ll have one final great revival.”

Nominal Christianity and the Christian Bookstore

 

You may have heard the news recently that Family Christian Bookstores are closing their doors and liquidating their merchandise.  By the time I’ve gotten around to publishing this post, the liquidation sale is nearly over.

It’s fascinating to me that a “Christian” bookstore would be venturesome enough to locate in malls and shopping plazas across America.  After 85 years in business, to date they operated 240 stores in 36 states and employed more than 3000 people, self-billed as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”.

Several reasons for closing may be obvious, like a lot of major brick and mortar retailers, they are simply suffering at the hand of online shopping, unable to compete with the selection and pricing of major online book companies such as Amazon and even Christianbook.com.  This I grant is a very real possibility.

But there may in fact be another reason for the sharp decline in the demand for “Christian-themed” merchandise, one that can be directly correlated with the changing landscape of American Christianity, i.e. Western Christendom.

If you’ve ever set foot in a Family Christian Bookstore, you know that their target audience is not the theologically astute or discerning mind.  I know I may be stepping on toes here, but their store markets everything from Christian jewelry to wall art to all things Christian if it has a cross or an Ichthus.  Their book of 2017 is Jesus Always by the cautionary Sarah Young and you’re far more likely to find the works of T.D. Jakes on their shelves than John Owen.

I get it.  Largely believers want to read or buy things for encouragement and don’t really know where to turn, so stores and merchandise like this have their appeal.  I’ve been there, done that.  This isn’t to entirely denigrate their store or to kick them while they are down.  They’re in the merchandising/marketing business so obviously they’re going to cater to what people are interested in purchasing.  Which brings us back to a speculative reason why they are closing.

It’s no secret that the religious landscape in America is quickly changing.  What used to be dominated by Christian nominalism, i.e. Christians in name only, is quickly becoming dominated by the Religious Nones, i.e. those who claim no religious identity or affiliation.  They can’t necessarily be described as agnostic, as there is a certain level of syncretism with other religions and secularism in their beliefs.

In the 1980’s – 2000’s Christian nominalism lived in an incubator.  The Religious Right was asserting political and cultural power, televangelists dominated T.V. programming, and Christian bookstores were flooding the market on the backs of the downtown and suburban mall phenomenon.  It’s speculative, but perhaps reasonable to conclude that the seeds of Christian nominalism may have been sown decades prior in the fundamentalist vs. liberalism debate of the early 1900’s.  Nevertheless it became very popular, fashionable, and dare I say financially lucrative to associate with Christianity, largely identified as Evangelicalism or for the sake of historic continuity, that which falls under the umbrella of Christendom.

Fast forward to 2017 and the Christian nominalist has given birth (literally in most cases) to the Religious Nones, those who saw no real power in the faux faith of their nominalist parents; were never really exposed to the Gospel; have not properly understood the majesty of Christ nor the sinfulness of their sin; and have largely been inoculated to the Gospel because of the disingenuous form of it to which they were exposed.

This is the landscape in which Family Christian Bookstores now finds themselves.  Peddling nominally Christian books to a nominally Christian audience that no longer exists.  This is most probably the reason for their demise.

But their closing isn’t merely about the loss of a giant Christian merchandise seller, as though the Kingdom of Christ has now given up ground to the enemy.  There is more to be gleaned here.  What can we conclude, generally speaking, from this observation of the relationship between the Christian retail market and the changing religious landscape of the United States?  Primarily, I think we may observe that there is a sifting underway, particularly in this country.  It is a sifting of all things Evangelical.  All things Christian in name only.  And this will ultimately further the collapse of Evangelicalism.

This was something I mentioned on this blog in March 2009 in the posts: The Coming Evangelical Collapse and Survey shows a Falling Way.  As I’ve revisited those posts and the articles linked in them, it’s remarkable how it is all unfolding before our eyes.  In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to interact some with those posts, particularly the predictions made by the late Michael Spencer in his own post “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” which I linked to 8 years ago this month.

 

 

Advice for Reading

 

One thing that took me awhile to learn was reading for profitability, not reading for the sake of reading.  There are far too many good, worthwhile books that cause your soul to stir and affections to swell for God than to waste your time (and eyes) reading bad books that produce little fruit.  Here is some advice from Thomas Brooks in his previously mentioned The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod for reading for profit

For, as many fish and catch nothing, Luke 5:5, so many read good books and get nothing, because they read them over cursorily, slightly, superficially; but he who would read to profit, must then,

First, Read and look up for a blessing—’Paul may plant, and Apollos may water,’ but all will be to no purpose, except ‘the Lord gives the increase,’ 1 Cor. 3:6, 7. God must do the deed, when all is done, or else all that is done will do you no good. If you would have this work successful and effectual, you must look off from man—and look up to God, who alone can make it a blessing to you. As without a blessing from heaven, your clothes cannot warm you, nor your food nourish you, nor medicine cure you, nor friends comfort you, Micah 6:14; so without a blessing from heaven, without the precious breathings and influences of the Spirit, what here is written will do you no good, it will not turn to your account in the day of Christ; therefore cast an eye heavenwards, Haggai 1:6.

It is Seneca’s observation, that the husbandmen in Egypt never look up to heaven for rain in the time of drought—but look after the overflowing of the banks of Nile, as the only cause of their plenty. Ah, how many are there in these days, who, when they go to read a book, never look up, never look after the rain of God’s blessing—but only look to the river Nile; they only look to the wit, the learning, the arts, the parts, the eloquence, etc., of the author, they never look so high as heaven; and hence it comes to pass, that though these read much, yet they profit little.

Secondly, He who would read to profit must read and meditate. Meditation is the food of your souls, it is the very stomach and natural heat whereby spiritual truths are digested. A man shall as soon live without his heart, as he shall be able to get good by what he reads, without meditation. Prayer, says Bernard, without meditation, is dry and formal; and reading without meditation is useless and unprofitable. He who would be a wise, a prudent, and an able experienced statesman, must not hastily ramble and run over many cities, countries, customs, laws, and manners of people, without serious musing and pondering upon such things as may make him an expert statesman; so he who would get good by reading, that would complete his knowledge, and perfect his experience in spiritual things, must not slightly and hastily ramble and run over this book or that—but ponder upon what he reads, as Mary pondered the saying of the angel in her heart.

Lord! says Augustine, the more I meditate on you, the sweeter you are to me; so the more you shall meditate on the following matter, the sweeter it will be to you. They usually thrive best who meditate most. Meditation is a soul-fattening duty; it is a grace-strengthening duty, it is a duty-crowning duty. Meditation is the nurse of prayer. Jerome calls it his paradise; Basil calls it the treasury where all the graces are locked up; Theophylact calls it the very gate and portal by which we enter into glory; and Aristotle, though a heathen, places felicity in the contemplation of the mind. You may read much and hear much—yet without meditation you will never be excellent, you still never be eminent Christians.

Thirdly, Read, and test what you read; take nothing upon trust—but all upon trial, as those ‘noble Bereans’ did, Acts 17:to, 11. You will try and count and weigh gold, though it be handed to you by your fathers; and so should you all those heavenly truths that are handed to you by your spiritual fathers. I hope upon trial you will find nothing—but what will hold weight in the balance of the sanctuary; and though all be not gold that glitters, yet I judge that you will find nothing here to blister, that will not be found upon trial to be true gold.

Fourthly, Read and do, read and practice what you read, or else all your reading will do you no good. He who has a good book in his hand—but not a lesson of it in his heart or life, is like that donkey that carries burdens, and feeds upon thistles. In divine account, a man knows no more than be does. Profession without practice will but make a man twice told a child of darkness. To speak well is to sound like a cymbal—but to do well is to act like an angel [Isidore]. He who practices what he reads and understands, God will help him to understand what he understands not. There is no fear of knowing too much, though there is much fear in practicing too little; the most doing man, shall be the most knowing man; the mightiest man in practice, will in the end prove the mightiest man in Scripture, John 7:16, 17, Psalm 119:98-100. Theory is the guide of practice, and practice is the life of theory.

Salvian relates how the heathen did reproach some Christians, who by their lewd lives made the gospel of Christ to be a reproach. ‘Where,’ said they, ‘is that good law which they believe? Where are those rules of godliness which they learn? They read the holy gospel, and yet are unclean; they read the apostles’ writings, and yet live in drunkenness; they follow Christ, and yet disobey Christ; they profess a holy law, and yet lead impure lives.’ Ah! how may many preachers take up sad complaints against many readers in these days! They read our works, and yet in their lives they deny our works; they praise our works, and yet in their lives they reproach our works; they cry up our labors in their discourses, and yet they cry them down in their practices—yet I hope better things of you into whose hands this treatise shall fall. The Samaritan woman did not fill her pitcher with water, that she might talk of it—but that she might use it, John 4:7; and Rachel did not desire the mandrakes to hold in her hand—but that she might thereby be the more apt to bring forth, Gen. xxx. 15. The application is easy. But,

Fifthly, Read and apply. Reading is but the drawing of the bow, application is the hitting of the bulls-eye. The choicest truths will no further profit you than they are applied by you. It would be as good not to read, as not to apply what you read. No man attains to health by reading books on health—but by the practical application of their remedies. All the reading in the world will never make for the health of your souls—except you apply what you read. The true reason why many read so much and profit so little—is because they do not apply and bring home what they read to their own souls. But,

Sixthly, and lastly, Read and pray. He who makes not conscience of praying over what he reads, will find little sweetness or profit in his reading. No man makes such earnings of his reading, as he who prays over what he reads. Luther professes that he profited more in the knowledge of the Scriptures by prayer, in a short space, than by study in a longer. As John by weeping got the sealed book open, so certainly men would gain much more than they do by reading good men’s works, if they would but pray more over what they read! Ah, Christians! pray before you read, and pray after you read, that all may be blessed and sanctified to you; when you have done reading, usually close up thus—So let me live, so let me die, that I may live eternally.

And when you are in the mount for yourselves, bear him upon your hearts, who is willing to ‘spend and be spend’ for your sakes, for your souls, 2 Cor. 12:15. Oh! pray for me, that I may more and more be under the rich influences and glorious pourings out of the Spirit; that I may ‘be an able minister of the New Testament—not of the letter—but of the Spirit,’ 2 Cor. 3:6; that I may always find an everlasting spring and an overflowing fountain within me, which may always make me faithful, constant, and abundant in the work of the Lord; and that I may live daily under those inward teachings of the Spirit, which may enable me to speak from the heart to the heart, from the conscience to the conscience, and from experience to experience; that I may be a ‘burning and a shining light,’ that everlasting arms may be still under me; that while I live, I may be serviceable to his glory and his people’s good; that no discouragements may discourage one in my work; and that when my work is done, I may give up my account with joy and not with grief. I shall follow these poor labors with my weak prayers, that they may contribute much to your internal and eternal welfare.”

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