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The Slow, Steady Decline of Evangelical Christianity


The author who wrote the quote below at the Houston Press, should have read the late Michael Spencer’s (3) part essay, My Prediction: The Coming Evangelical Collapse

Just over a decade ago, evangelical Christians were ascendant. After the legwork of Falwell’s Moral Majority and Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition, an evangelical Christian was in the White House, George W. Bush, whose favorite philosopher was “Jesus Christ.” Indeed, even as late as 2004, the media told us that “values voters,” i.e., evangelicals, had swung the 2004 election to Bush, even though this wasn’t true.

Now, however, to take from a title of a book being worrisomely read by evangelical leaders, evangelicalism is receding. As the book, written by an evangelical pastor, notes: “the church’s overall numbers are shrinking. Its primary fuel–donations–is drying up and disappearing. And its political fervor is dividing the movement from within.”

More Here

If you never read Spencer’s essay, you should. Looking around today at the state of Evangelicalism, it’s evident many of the things he ‘predicted’ have either already come to pass or are on the fast-track to arriving there.

From part (1)

My Prediction

I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former “glory.”

The party is almost over for evangelicals; a party that’s been going strong since the beginning of the “Protestant” 20th century. We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century in a culture that will be between 25-30% non-religious.

This collapse, will, I believe, 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. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.

The response of evangelicals to this new environment will be a revisiting of the same rhetoric and reactions we’ve seen since the beginnings of the current culture war in the 1980s. The difference will be that millions of evangelicals will quit: quit their churches, quit their adherence to evangelical distinctives and quit resisting the rising tide of the culture.

Many who will leave evangelicalism will leave for no religious affiliation at all. Others will leave for an atheistic or agnostic secularism, with a strong personal rejection of Christian belief and Christian influence. Many of our children and grandchildren are going to abandon ship, and many will do so saying “good riddance.”

This collapse will cause the end of thousands of ministries. The high profile of Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Hundreds of thousands of students, pastors, religious workers, missionaries and persons employed by ministries and churches will be unemployed or employed elsewhere. [ ]. Visible, active evangelical ministries will be reduced to a small percentage of their current size and effort.

Nothing will reanimate evangelicalism to its previous levels of size and influence. The end of evangelicalism as we know it is close; far closer than most of us will admit.

My prediction has nothing to do with a loss of eschatological optimism. Far from it. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But I am not optimistic about evangelicalism, and I do not believe any of the apparently lively forms of evangelicalism today are going to be the answer. In fact, one dimension of this collapse, as I will deal with in the next post, is the bizarre scenario of what will remain when evangelicals have gone into decline.

I fully expect that my children, before they are 40, will see evangelicalism at far less than half its current size and rapidly declining. They will see a very, very different culture as far as evangelicalism is concerned.

I hope someone is going to start preparing for what is going to be an evangelical dark age.

Why Is This Going To Happen?

1) Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This was a mistake that will have brutal consequences. They are not only going to suffer in losing causes, they will be blamed as the primary movers of those causes. Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.

The investment of evangelicals in the culture war will prove out to be one of the most costly mistakes in our history. The coming evangelical collapse will come about, largely, because our investment in moral, social and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. We’re going to find out that being against gay marriage and rhetorically pro-life (yes, that’s what I said) will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence and are believing in a cause more than a faith.

2) Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions of youth ministers, Christian music, Christian publishing and Christian media has produced an entire burgeoning culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures that they will endure.

Do not be deceived by conferences or movements that are theological in nature. These are a tiny minority of evangelicalism. A strong core of evangelical beliefs is not present in most of our young people, and will be less present in the future. This loss of “the core” has been at work for some time, and the fruit of this vacancy is about to become obvious.

You can continue to read part one at the link above. 

If this interested you, here are the links to part(s) 2 and 3…

*Part (2) The Coming Evangelical Collapse: What Will Be Left

*Part (3) The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Good or Bad?

In a new post at Jesus Without Baggage, we also have this interesting (related) message: What Does Evangelical Mean Today?

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14 comments on “The Slow, Steady Decline of Evangelical Christianity

  1. The evangelical community has always been a spiritual chameleon. The structure it self is built on a capitalist model and a secular leadership construct. As television and all forms of communication technology exploded during the 60′ so did evangelical membership. But during the 60s and the 70s the church became a vital part of the culture. No methodology was out of bounds, no message was too relevant, not topic was taboo, and no preacher was too rich or flashy. It was during those two decades when the evangelical church breathed its last breath.
    What we have now is a fraud. A religious corpse operating within a spiritual sarcophagus which suggests it believes God’s Word but which in practice dishonors it on every level. The nationalistic fervor and the political activism and the moral crusades are only muscles twitching long after the heart has ceased to beat.

  2. Evangelicals have long being consuming a diet laden with junk food. Physical junk food served in fellowship hall and spiritual junk food served up from the pulpit. That is a recipe for madness and death. On top of that evangelicals have a heritage of hostility and rejection toward mainline Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. These are our forbears, our fathers in the faith whether we like it or not, They may be infested with heresy, but, nevertheless, if it were not for them, we would not be here. For the sake of our own spiritual health, we have to accept that the Church of Jesus Christ has a long and imperfect history. There is a principle that when we reject our parents because of their imperfections, we doom ourselves to repeat their errors. I really believe that same principle is at work in the church. Continual purification is part of being a believer. We are all infested with heresies to one degree or another and keeping them at bay without resorting to meanness and bitterness is a continual struggle. One of my greatest sources of hope and faith is in recognizing that I am part of the Church of Jesus Christ which has its roots in the Holy Scripture, but which has endured through the assaults of both persecution and prosperity for over twenty one centuries now, and, in fact, in a greater sense, since the beginning of time itself. While I do not and can not accept the errors of my forbears in the faith, I nevertheless love them and accept them as brethren in Christ and pray that God in His mercy would deliver me from the curse of doctrinal error and spiritual pride. We need to recognize that we are all part of the same spiritual family, even though there are tares in our midst, and love one another and pray for one another, and draw ever closer to our Lord through prayer, the Word of God, and the teachings of our spiritual fathers all the way back to the days of the apostles.

  3. Here’s a spiritual insight, doctrine or just plain common sense taught to me and quite a few others in the early and middle 1970′s as young men and women, with our odd ideas about Jesus gathered under the spiritual tutelage of a dearly departed and long time personal mentor: the Faith picture.

    This man of God with his wife and some peers his age and older, he was about 45 years old back then, undertook to disciple us seeing to it we were well taught in the Scriptures.

    In the article it is asked “Why Is This Going To Happen?”

    I’d submit it isn’t.

    Why?

    Because the powerful Word of God says so. It may not look like God is on the move. It may even come to your mind God has washed His hands of the Church in its present condition.

    Well I have some Good News for you doubting Thomas!

    Take these following Words of God from Ephesians and keep them foremost in your mind holding them as a FAITH picture, keeping in mind FAITH is the substance of things hoped for and the EVIDENCE of things not yet seen:

    Eph. 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
    8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
    9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
    10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

    The plan of God will come to pass. Not one Word of God will fall to the ground. It means nothing to God what the present state of affairs of Christ’s Church or what it looks or sounds like.

    The powerful sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is not diminished one bit because the Church is off Her rails. He has been here as the Chief Spiritual Representative and Shepherd of the Godhead from the beginning, see Genesis 1:1-2!

    Things are on schedule. The Glory Train is on time to depart to Eternity! The Omega said it. I believe it. And the time for Ephesians 1:7-10 will surely appear in this fallen world demons filled and flourishing without any one ministry or person or prayer group or Christian aid able to boast its arrival was by them!

    I would be moving forward and taking a stand! And when there is nothing happening according to what you are seeing and hearing and reading, stand! See Ephesians 6:10-20!!!

    • I agree completely with your thoughts about the church, but I think there may be a difference between evangelicalism and the Church. The true Church is made of Christ lovers who take their covenant with Him seriously. I don’t know that we can that of every person who calls themselves evangelical.

    • Just wanted to add these links from a couple old post made in 08. You may find them interesting Steve,

      Why fundamentalism will fail

      and,

      Evangelicals: What and Who are they?

      but I think there may be a difference between evangelicalism and the Church

      True, one does not always mean the other. This is why i hate “tags”…christians, who have this need to define themselves with something more then just Christian.

    • I agree. Jesus made it all pretty easy to understand. Believe, obey, and most importantly love the Lord and others.

      The issue I had with Falwell’s Moral Majority and Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition is that, if there was any love there it was nearly impossible to see. Protests, boycotts and such don’t send a message of love.

      Last year I read about a homosexual group that was organizing a protest against a Christian speaker at a particular church. It made me think of all these Christian groups who protest and get ugly about that issue. I wondered how any gay person could possibly know that Jesus loves them by listening to some Christians groups and seeing how they fight in court, organize boycotts, etc.

      After some time I dug around and found the email address of the pastor whose church was going to be protested. I encouraged him to have plenty of water on hand, umbrellas if it was raining, shelter if the sun was unbearable, or whatever might comfort the gays who’d be protesting. I was surprised to get a quick reply, because I didn’t expect one at all. The pastor was very grateful for my suggestion, admitted that he and his church had not even thought of anything like that and that they’d run with the suggestion.

      This doesn’t really say anything bad about that church as much as it does about the Church. How are we so far removed from what Jesus taught? Why do we feel like we need to win a fight or a debate when what we really need to do is walk away and see how can love our opponent.

      My little rant may seem like it has nothing to do with this blog post, but really it shows why the Church is in decline. We take those who disagree with us to court, or get into public word battles with them. Our behavior looks ugly and harsh to an unbelieving world, while helping those who are against God and loving them is rather inviting. The Church needs a serious paradigm shift. We need to get out of politics, get out of court and give our enemies a drink of water and a coat to keep them warm instead.

    • My little rant may seem like it has nothing to do with this blog post, but really it shows why the Church is in decline. We take those who disagree with us to court, or get into public word battles with them. Our behavior looks ugly and harsh to an unbelieving world, while helping those who are against God and loving them is rather inviting. The Church needs a serious paradigm shift. We need to get out of politics, get out of court and give our enemies a drink of water and a coat to keep them warm instead.

      Steve, your comment has everything to do with the post…thanks for sharing it. And a big amen to the above!

    • Just finished “Evangelicals: What and Who are they?”, I remember reading it, or maybe the original article when it was written. I agree with it.

    • Glad it helped.

      (fixed your title)

    • I read “Why fundamentalism will fail” and I have to admit that I always thought the same thing this lady did. When asked what an evangelical was, “I believe it’s a Baptist,” said a woman from Nevada.

      I still don’t know.

  4. I’m sure there will be a lot of commentary and analysis in the next few years regarding Evangelicalism’s decline but I just have a few questions: What was Evangelical Christianity trying to accomplish? Was it to transform society and culture and the political landscape? Was it successful? Did it carry out the Great Commission (go and make disciples of all nations)? If so, how well?

    • Steve, the message linked to at the end of the post, What Does Evangelical Mean Today?, touches on some of your questions. There are a few links within it as well which deal with what it was originally, what it hoped to accomplish, etc. One very good article linked to is 19th Century Evangelicalism: Why is it Important Today?

      You may also be interested in this 4 page article (actually a book review) at Christianity Today: The Rise of the Evangelicals

      Personally i can say this: there was a time when i considered myself an evangelical. Also a fundamentalist. But whatever those terms once stood for, (or i believed they stood for) changed. The terms brought to mind negative stereotypes and in my opinion, became represented more by what we know today as ‘American political Christianity’….or even the Christian Patriot movement. I remember writing a post early on here at the blog, stating i no longer considered myself an evangelical or fundamentalist. That i no longer wanted to be viewed as anything but a ‘simple Christian’.

      Anyway, hope the links help to answer some of your questions.

  5. Thanks for sharing this fascinating article; I read all three parts. I also believe that evangelicalism is going to change drastically in the next decades. Those raised under certain ‘doctrines to die for’ such as inerrancy, hell, creationism, substitutionary atonement, will increasingly see their unreasonableness and drop out of evangelicalism.

    I think other evangelicals will continue to dig in doctrinally, as they have done since the 1970s, and become more and more marginalized. Alignment with the extreme political right will add to the marginalization as they defend social issues that are rejected by most Americans.

    However, I think a minority of evangelicals will transcend their roots and become more influential. I call these ‘theologically progressive evangelicals’, but it may be that what they will become is post-evangelical.

    I am pleased that you considered my articles on evangelicalism to be useful as references. I have since added a final post to the series: The Hope of Theologically Progressive Evangelicalism at http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/the-hope-of-theologically-progressive-evangelicalism-strength-for-today-and-bright-hope-for-tomorrow/.

    • The evangelical Church has indeed been going through changes…and i agree with you, more are to come. That’s if the evangelical branch of the church hopes to survive. For some time now it has reminded me of an old, (constantly) complaining, bitter, fault-finding aunt i use to have. Aha! She too was ‘marginalized’, for no one wanted to be in her company for very long.

      Thanks for the link! I’ll be checking it out

      Merry Christmas and God bless…

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