Tag Archives: Evangelicalism

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.