“The Coming Evangelical Collapse”

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On the heels of a flurry of three previous posts I wrote about the mindlessness of evangelicalism and its worship practices, you might think of me as too critical and pessimistic. Well, my friend Scott sent me a link to another article with even more ominous thoughts.

The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, wrote a series of articles that would surely put evangelicals into defensive denial. In “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” published by CSMonitor.com, Spencer discusses reasons and results of this demise and wonders, “Is all of this a bad thing?”

His bold predictions only echo what many of us in historic Reformed churches have been saying: the gospel-less anti-doctrinalism, emotionalism and moralism of evangelical churches which started with the 1960s hippie revolution will end up as another footnote in the history of the modern church. After only three decades after Newsweek published its cover story in 1976, “The Year of the Evangelical,” noting the spiritual and numerical growth of evangelical churches, Spencer now says, “We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity.”

Among other things, Spencer lists the causes of this demise: its identification with political conservatism; “fail[ure] to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught”; the secularization of Christian education; and the “great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.” The Internet Monk sees the failure of “billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media” that has produced generations of

young people [who] 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.

Billions of dollars invested in producing a generation that could play Internet games for days on end, but finds a 30-minute sermon too boring and unable to spare a few minutes to read and study the Bible. What “faith” would this generation pass on to the next but a next-to-nothing knowledge, narcissistic worship and Biblically-disconnected practice?

While evangelical apologists are in denial, keen observers of political, social and religious trends will not fail to see this demise in study after study done by the Barna Group, Pew Forum and other researchers.

The Internet Monk sees the remnants of the evangelical movement scattered all over the religious spectrum. Many will seek refuge among the Catholic and Orthodox churches (this phenomenon has been ongoing in the last few decades). Most who stick will be in the remains of “pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches.”

Will this evangelical collapse result in a second reformation? While Spencer does not think so, I believe that small Reformed churches which are faithful to the five solas of the 16th century Protestant Reformation will gain adherents. Where will the disenchanted and disenfranchised go? They have three choices: (1) apostasize in unbelief; (2) go back to Rome; or (3) go back to Reformed Geneva and Heidelberg. I believe that a small remnant will choose the last option.

While I concur with Spencer’s general ideas on the reasons for and possible results of the collapse of evangelicalism, I disagree that “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.” It is precisely this movement that has a huge hand in the evangelical demise, with its emphasis on anti-doctrinalism, emotionalism, and entertainment gimmicks that has resulted in generations of “young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it.” It is this movement that has spawned all kinds of abuses by the Word-Faith movement and prosperity gospel, and influenced evangelical churches to adopt entertainment gimmicks to turn their worship services into delirious, frenzied pagan celebrations. From where did the “praise and worship” band and contemporary “Christian” music come, but from Vineyard, Hosanna, Integrity and Hillsong – all Pentecostal companies?

Spencer believes that “if American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Holy Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing.” Not so. The demise of American evangelism will be repeated in Asia, Africa and Latin America because everything that happens in American/Western evangelicalism are exported all over the world. As I look around evangelicalism in the Philippines, I see exactly the same anti-doctrinalism, emotionalism and moralistic psychotherapy overrunning the churches. For example, even as I write this, a denomination with Presbyterian roots is already on the throes of being co-opted by Pentecostalism.

Is this the coming “rebellion” or great apostasy predicted by Paul when “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God”? (2 Thess 2:3-5)

If, at all, Reformation comes to the Charismatic-Pentecostal movement and its accompanying worship practices, it will cease to be Charismatic or Pentecostal. This is because the Protestant Reformation is the antithesis of this movement.

For more on this subject, read “To Be or Not To Be: The Uneasy Relationship between Reformed Christianity and American Evangelicalism” by Dr. Michael Horton.

Watch also the video below as Horton interviews Ligonier Ministries’ R. C. Sproul in White Horse Inn’s “The State of Evangelicalism Today and ‘Christless’ Christianity.”

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2 thoughts on ““The Coming Evangelical Collapse””

  1. In the Philippines, texting is the thing. I was amused when it was reported in the London Daily Telegraph that some British youth send as many as 50 texts a month. Filipino teens probably send 50 texts a day!

    Anyway, I thought about this because I’ve seen all kinds of people in many churches who are constantly texting during worship services. Some kids even play their PSPs and Gameboys during the sermon (maybe a reflection of the quality of preaching). I also noticed when I visited a very popular megachurch in Metro Manila that people were constantly coming and going all throughout worship services, like shoppers at the mall. Well, maybe because this megachurch is just like a mall with McDonald’s, Starbucks, a bookstore, etc.

    Why then do evangelicals wonder why some people go back to the Catholic or Orthodox church?

  2. Melissa Yacher

    When at university in Knoxville, TN I didn't have a car my freshman year and so needed a church within walking distance or else one that picked up students. However, every "Protestant" church that fit in one of these two categories had this watered-down, scripture-less, "let's all feel good about ourselves" kind of "worship" that you are talking about here. Either they were very Charismatic, to the point that if you didn't fall down or 'speak in tongues' they told you that you didn't have the Holy Spirit or they had "sermons" that were more like social justice messages that completely forgot about scripture or something worse.

    I ended up attending the Catholic Student Parish. At least there several passages of scripture were read every week, the sermon was from the passages that were read and sin was still considered, well, sinful. There was also a sense of reverence for being in the presence of the Lord that was lacking everywhere else I went. In other words, people didn't let their kids run around everywhere during the service, turned off their cell phones, dressed appropriately and left their coffee outside.

    I am back in my Presbyterian church now that I am back home. Thankfully Christ is still worshiped there and scripture is still preached. But I know now why people are going back to Rome. Everyone dancing around with coffee in their hands dressed in jeans and t-shirt and pausing to text people in the middle of the service is just not worship to me, no matter how "good" it might make me feel about myself.

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