Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral. But what about what remains?"

Take a read of THIS from Michael Spencer. These are fightin' words. But it's not all doom and gloom. Later in the article, he writes: "Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, "Christianity loves a crumbling empire."

Read the 'prophecy':
Oneida, Ky. - 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.

Why is this going to happen?

1. 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.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a 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.

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

What will be left?

•Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.

•Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the "conversion" of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

•A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from its demise through theological renewal. This is an attractive, innovative, and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing, and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches.

•The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.

•Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear.

•Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion? To do so, it must make a priority of biblical authority, responsible leadership, and a reemergence of orthodoxy.

•Evangelicalism needs a "rescue mission" from the world Christian community. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. Will they come? Will they be able to bring to our culture a more vital form of Christianity?

•Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.

Is all of this a bad thing?

Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral. But what about what remains?

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

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

Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. The purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.

Will it shake lose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? Evidence from similar periods is not encouraging. American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success.

The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.

Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, "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, numbers, 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.

I'm not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential?
Discuss.

_________________
Pic on Flickr by Maytevidri.

6 comments:

John said...

Overly apocalyptic, probably, but point two is an interesting one. Evangelicals failed to create a culture and tradition and people are always going to go look for that. Hence, he seems right that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions will be the big winners.

I confess wary of the Internet Monk. I appreciate the wandering, everyone should spend their 40 days in the dessert, but please return and start constructing. Describing yourself as a "postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality" is one of the reasons evangelicalism is in such bad shape. It's trite, cutesy, and meaningless. Being a Christian isn't about "Jesus-shaped spirituality", it's about Jesus.

Please pick a tradition, any tradition, and follow Christ. Don't try to mix and max or borrow. Appreciate, but don't syncretize.

Michael Canaris said...

That article seems simultaneously alarmist, imprecise and adjective-laden (besides, I failed to see where he defined his terms.)

"-- 1. 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.--"
Vague, imprecise generalisations compounded by teleological privileging of the author's standpoint. While there are a few minor swings here and there, by and large mass political identification tends to remain fairly stable in industrialised countries.

Julian said...

See Jenkins P "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity".

The comments above are probably quite true of North America - but don't reflect what is happening in South America, Africa and China.

What I'd like to see is a apocalypse of USA-centric views.

Luke C said...

This applies to American Evangelicalism only, it reminds me of the woes of the decline of society and everything just and good that you hear from Fox News.

Brandon said...

Fascinating. Is this linked in any way to the report that came out last week charting the decline/flux shift going on within American Christianity? The percentage of people who identified themselves as non-believers shifted by something like 10 or 15% in the past 20 years.

Oh, here it is: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23337807/

Anonymous said...

[For what it's worth, help yourself to the following which was just dished up on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site. Disturbed? Alan]

PRETRIB RAPTURE DISHONESTY

by Dave MacPherson

When I began my research in 1970 into the exact beginnings of the pretribulation rapture belief still held by many evangelicals, I assumed that the rapture debate involved only "godly scholars with honest differences." The paper you are now reading reveals why I gave up that assumption many years ago. With this introduction-of-sorts in mind, let's take a long look at the pervasive dishonesty throughout the history of the 179-year-old pretrib rapture theory:

Mid-1820's - German scholar Max Weremchuk's work "John Nelson Darby" (1992) included what Benjamin Newton revealed about John Darby in the mid-1820's during his pre-Brethren days as an Anglican clergyman:
"J. N. Darby was a very subtle man. He had been a lawyer, or at least educated for the law. Once he wanted his Archbishop to pursue a certain course, when he (J.N.D.) was a curate in his diocese. He wrote a letter, therefore, saying he had been educated for the law, knew what the legal course would properly be; and then having written that clearly, he mystified the remainder of the letter both in word and in handwriting, and ended up by saying: You see, my Lord, such being the legal aspect of the case it would unquestionably be the best course for you to pursue, etc. And the Archbishop couldn't make out the legal part, but rested on Darby's word and did as he advised. Darby afterwards laughed over it, and indeed he showed a copy of the letter to Tregelles. This is not mentioned in the Archbishop's biography, but in it is the fact that he spoke of Darby as 'the most subtle man in my diocese.'"
This reminds me of an 1834 letter by Darby which spoke of the "Lord's coming." Darby added, concerning this coming, that "the thoughts are new" and that during any teaching of it "it would not be well to have it so clear." Darby's deviousness here was his usage of a centuries-old term - "Lord's coming" - to cover up his desire to sneak the new pretrib idea into existing posttrib groups in very low-profile ways!
1830 - In the spring of 1830 a young Scottish lassie, Margaret Macdonald, came up with the novel notion of a catching up [rapture] of Spirit-filled "church" members before Antichrist's "trial" [tribulation] of non-Spirit-filled "church" members - the first instance I've found of clear "pretrib" teaching (which was part of a partial rapture scheme). In Sep. 1830 "The Morning Watch" (a journal produced by London preacher Edward Irving and his "Irvingite" followers, some of whom had visited Margaret a few weeks earlier) began repeating her original thoughts and even her wording but gave her no credit - the first plagiarism I've found in pretrib history. Darby was still defending posttrib in Dec. 1830.
Pretrib promoters have long known the significance of her main point: a rapture of "church" members BEFORE the revealing of Antichrist. Which is why John Walvoord quoted nothing in her revelation, why Thomas Ice habitually skips over her main point but quotes lines BEFORE and AFTER it, and why Hal Lindsey muddies up her main point so he can (falsely) assert that she was NOT a pretribber! (Google "X-Raying Margaret" for info about her.)
NOTE: The development of the 1800's is thoroughly documented in my book "The Rapture Plot." You'll learn that Darby wasn't original on any chief aspect of dispensationalism (but plagiarized the Irvingites); that pretrib was initially based on only OT and NT symbols and not clear Scripture; that the symbols included the Jewish feasts, the two witnesses, and the man child - symbols adopted by Darby during most of his career; that Darby's later reminiscences exaggerated his earliest pretrib development, and that today's defenders such as Thomas Ice have further overstated what Darby overstated; that Irvingism didn't need later reminiscences to "clarify" its own early pretrib development; that ancient hymns and even the writings of the Reformers were subtly revised to make it appear they had taught pretrib; and that after Darby's death a clever revisionist quietly made many changes in early Irvingite and Brethren documents in order to steal credit for pretrib away from the Irvingites (and their female inspiration!) and give it dishonestly to Darby! (Before continuing, Google the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site and read "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers" - a sample of the current exciting internetism!)
1920 - Charles Trumbull's book "The Life Story of C. I. Scofield" told only the dispensationally-correct side of his life. Two recent books, Joseph Canfield's "The Incredible Scofield and His Book" (1988) and David Lutzweiler's "DispenSinsationalism: C. I. Scofield's Life and Errors" (2006), reveal the other side including his being jailed as a forger, dishonestly giving himself a non-conferred "D.D." etc. etc.!
1967 - Brethren scholar Harold Rowdon's "The Origins of the Brethren" quoted Darby associate Lord Congleton who was "disgusted with...the falseness" of Darby's accounts of things. Rowdon also quoted historian William Neatby who said that others felt that "the time-honoured method of single combat" was as good as anything "to elicit the truth" from Darby. (In other words, knock it out of him!)
1972 - Tim LaHaye's "The Beginning of the End" (1972) plagiarized Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" (1970).
1976 - Charles Ryrie"s "The Living End" (1976) plagiarized Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" (1970) and "There's A New World Coming" (1973).
1976 - After John Walvoord's "The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation" (1976) brutally twisted Robert Gundry's "The Church and the Tribulation" (1973), Gundry composed and circulated a 35-page open letter to Walvoord which repeatedly charged the Dallas Seminary president with "misrepresentation," "misrepresentations" (and variations)!
1981 - "The Fundamentalist Phenomenon" (1981) by Jerry Falwell, Ed Dobson, and Ed Hindson heavily plagiarized George Dollar's 1973 book "A History of Fundamentalism in America."
1984 - After a prof at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God in Florida told me that the No. 2 man at the AG world headquarters in Missouri - Joseph Flower - had the label of posttrib, my wife and I had two hour-long chats with him. He verified what I had been told. But we were dumbstruck when he told us that although AG ministers are required to promote pretrib, privately they can believe any other rapture view! Flower said that his father, an AG co-founder, was also posttrib. We also learned while in Springfield that when the AG's were organized in 1914, the initial group was divided between posttribs and pretribs - but that the pretribs shouted louder which resulted in that denomination officially adopting pretrib! (For details on this and other pretrib double-mindedness, Google "Pretrib Hypocrisy.")
1989 - Since 1989 Thomas Ice has referred to the "Mac-theory" (his reference to my research), giving the impression there's no solid evidence that Macdonald was the real pretrib originator. But Ice carefully conceals the fact that no eminent church historian of the 1800's - whether Plymouth Brethren or Irvingite - credited Darby with pretrib. Instead, they uniformly credited leading Irvingite sources, all of which upheld the Scottish lassie's contribution! Moreover, I'm hardly the only modern scholar seeing significance in Irvingism's territory. Others in recent years who have noted it, but who haven't mined it as deeply as I have, include Fuller, Ladd, Bass, Rowdon, Sandeen, and Gundry.
1989 - Greg Bahnsen and Kenneth Gentry produced evidence in 1989 that Lindsey's book "The Road to Holocaust" (1989) plagiarized "Dominion Theology" (1988) by H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice.
1990 - David Jeremiah's and C. C. Carlson's "Escape the Coming Night" (1990) massively plagiarized Lindsey's 1973 book "There's A New World Coming." (For more info, type in "Thieves' Marketing" on MSN or Google.)
1991 - Paul Lee Tan's "A Pictorial Guide to Bible Prophecy" (1991) plagiarized large amounts of Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" (1970).
1991 - Militant Darby defender R. A. Huebner claimed in 1991 to have found new evidence that Darby was pretrib as early as 1827 - three years before Macdonald. Halfway through his book Huebner suddenly admitted that his evidence could refer to something completely un-rapturesque. Even though Thomas Ice admitted to me that he knew that Huebner had "blown" his so-called evidence, prevaricator Ice continues to tell the world that Huebner has "positive evidence" that Darby was pretrib in 1827! Ice also conceals the fact that Darby, in his own 1827 paper, was looking for only "the restitution of all things" and "the times of refreshing" (Acts 3:19,21) - which Scofield doesn't see fulfilled until AFTER a future tribulation!
1992 - Tim LaHaye's "No Fear of the Storm" (1992) plagiarized Walvoord's "The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation" (1976).
1992 - This was when the Los Angeles Times revealed that "The Magog Factor" (1992) by Hal Lindsey and Chuck Missler was a monstrous plagiarism of Prof. Edwin Yamauchi's scholarly 1982 work "Foes from the Northern Frontier." Four months after this exposure, Lindsey and Missler stated they had stopped publishing and promoting their book. But in 1996 Dr. Yamauchi learned that the dishonest duo had issued a 1995 book called "The Magog Invasion" which still had a substantial amount of the same plagiarism! (If Lindsey and Missler ever need hernia operations, I predict that the doctors will tell them not to lift anything for a long time!)
1994 - In 1996 it was revealed that Lindsey's "Planet Earth - 2000 A.D. (1994) had an embarrassing amount of plagiarism of a Texe Marrs book titled "Mystery Mark of the New Age" (1988).
1995 - My book "The Rapture Plot" reveals the dishonesty in Darby's reprinted works. It's often hard to tell who wrote the footnotes and when. It's easy to believe that the notes, and also unsigned phrases inside brackets within the text, were a devious attempt by someone (Darby? his editor?) to portray a Darby far more developed in pretrib thinking than he actually had been at the time. I found that some of the "additives" had been taken from Darby's much later works, when he was more developed, and placed next to or inside his earliest works! One footnote by Darby's editor, attached to Darby's 1830 paper, actually stated that "it was not worth while either suppressing or changing" anything in this work! If his editor wasn't open to such dishonesty, how can we explain such a statement?
Post-1995 - Thomas Ice's article "Inventor of False Pre-Trib Rapture History" states that my book "The Rapture Plot" is "only one of the latest in a series of revisions of his original discourse...." And David Reagan in his article "The Origin of the Concept of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture" repeats Ice's falsehood by claiming that I have republished my first book "over the years under several different titles."
Although my book repeats a bit of the Macdonald origin of pretrib (for new readers), all of my books are packed with new material not found in my other works. For some clarification, "The Incredible Cover-Up" has photos of pertinent places in Ireland, Scotland, and England not found in my later books plus several chapters dealing with theological arguments; "The Great Rapture Hoax" quotes scholars throughout the Church Age, covers Scofield's hidden side, a section on Powerscourt, the 1980 election, the Jupiter Effect, Gundry's change, and more theological arguments; "The Rapture Plot" reveals for the first time the Great Evangelical Revisionism/Robbery and includes appendices on miscopying, plagiarism, etc.; and "The Three R's" shows hypocritical evangelicals employing occultic beliefs they say they have long opposed!
So Thomas Ice etc. are twisting truth when they claim I am only a revisionist. Do they really think that my publishers DON'T know what I've previously written?
Re arguments, Google "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts" and also obtain "The End Times Passover" and "Why Christians Will Suffer 'Great Tribulation' " (AuthorHouse, 2006) by media personality Joe Ortiz.
1997 - For years Harvest House Publishers has owned and been republishing Lindsey's book "There's A New World Coming." During the same time Lindsey has been peddling his reportedly "new" book "Apocalyse Code" (1997), much of which is word-for-word the same as the Harvest House book - and there's no notice of "simultaneous publishing" in either book! Talk about pretrib greed!
1997 - This is the year I discovered that more than 50 pages of Dallas Seminary professor Merrill Unger's book "Beyond the Crystal Ball" (Moody Press, 1973) constituted a colossal plagiarism of Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" (1970). After Lindsey's book came out, Unger had complained that Lindsey's book had plagiarized his classroom lecture notes. It was evident that Unger felt that he too should cash in on his own lectures! (The detailed account of this Dallas Seminary dishonesty is revealed in my 1998 book "The Three R's.")
1998 - Tim LaHaye's "Understanding the Last Days" (1998) plagiarized Lindsey's "There's A New World Coming" (1973).
1999 - More than 200 pages (out of 396 pages) in Lindsey's 1999 book "Vanished Into Thin Air" are virtually carbon copies of pages in his 1983 book "The Rapture" - with no "updated" or "revised" notice included! Lindsey has done the same nervy thing with several of his books, something that has allowed him to live in million-dollar-plus homes and drive cars like Ferraris! (See my Google articles "Deceiving and Being Deceived" and "Thieves' Marketing" for further evidence of this notably pretrib vice.)
2000 - A Jack Van Impe article "The Moment After" (2000) plagiarized Grant Jeffrey's book "Final Warning" (1995).
2001 - Since 2001 my web article "Walvoord's Posttrib 'Varieties' - Plus" has been exposing his devious muddying up of posttrib waters. In some of his books he invented four "distinct" and "contradictory" posttrib divisions, claiming that they are either "classic" or "semiclassic" or "futurist" or "dispensational" - distinctions that disappear when analyzed! His "futurist" group holds to a literal future tribulation and a literal millennium but doesn't embrace "any day" imminency. But his "dispensational" group has the same non-imminency! Moreover, tribulational futurism is found in every group except the first one, and he somehow admitted that a literal millennium is in all four groups! On the other hand, it's the pretribs who consistently disagree with each other over their chief points and subpoints - but somehow end up agreeing that there will be a pretrib rapture! (See my chapter "A House Divided" in my book "The Incredible Cover-Up.")
2001 - Since my "Deceiving and Being Deceived" web item which exposed the claims for Pseudo-Ephraem" and "Morgan Edwards" as teachers of pretrib, there has been a piranha-like frenzy on the part of pretrib bodyguards and their duped groupies to "discover" almost anything before 1830 walking upright on two legs that seemed to have at least a remote hint of pretrib! (An exemplary poster boy for such pretrib practice is Grant Jeffrey. To get your money's worth, Google "Wily Jeffrey.")

FINALLY: Don't take my word for any of the above. Read my 300-page book "The Rapture Plot" which has a jillion more documented details on the long-hidden but now-revealed history of the dishonest, 179-year-old, fringe-British-invented, American-merchandised-until-the-real-bad-stuff-happens pretribulation rapture fad. If this book of mine doesn't "move" you, I will personally refund what you paid for it!