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evangelicalism over the next decade

I've been contemplating Michael Spencer's blogs on the future of evangelical churches in America (iMonk blog). His three articles on his predicted collapse of evangelicalism are found here. It is important, I believe, to read all three articles. I find myself in agreement with much he has to say.

Here are a few quotes...

The determination to follow in the methodological steps of numerically successful churches will be greater than ever. The result will be, in the main, a departure from doctrine to more and more emphasis on relevance, motivation and personal success….with the result being churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith. ...

For some time, we’ve been at a point that the decision to visit a particular evangelical church contained a fairly high risk of not hearing the Biblical Gospel. That experience will be multiplied and expanded in the years to come. Core beliefs will become less and less normative and necessary in evangelicalism. ...

A small portion of evangelicalism will continue down the path of theological re-construction and recovery. Whether they be post-evangelicals working for a reinvigoration of evangelicalism along the lines of historic “Mere Christianity,” or theologically assertive young reformed pastors looking toward a second reformation, a small, but active and vocal portion of evangelicalism will work hard to rescue the evangelical movement from its demise by way of theological renewal. ...

But it is impossible to not be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, “Christianity loves a crumbling empire.” Christianity has flourished when it should have been exterminated. It has conquered when it was counted as defeated. Evangelicalism’s heyday is not the entirety of God’s plan.


Indeed very interesting to think about. Seems to me like the Emerging Church movement has had a lot to do with emphasizing relevance over doctrine.
Sandy said…
I agree. It's interesting that Spencer feels the emergent church will go the way of the liberal church, that is, lose the distinctiveness of the gospel by appealing to subjective religious preferences, whether of the younger or of the older population.
Mark said…
I agree with Spencer that one of the big missteps has been to align with conservative politics, but I disagree that the reason this was wrong was that it put us out of step with our culture. Alignment with liberal political aspirations is no better.

The real problem is that dreaming political dreams puts us out of step with with Jesus by fixing our hopes and attentions on earthly warfare and earthly weaponry rather than on the embassage with which we have been entrusted.

Overall I think Spencer is alarmist. Certainly he raises valid and important issues, particularly regarding the low level of doctrinal understanding and the lack of emphasis on the gospel message. But Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age. His Holy Spirit is not tired. Human institutions (churches, parachurches, movements) and labels come and go, but the work of God will continue. If the label "evangelical" becomes too much of a hindrance--as perhaps it already has--we will discard it in the same way that many evangelicals discarded the fundamentalist label when it became associated with anti-intellectual legalism.

But beyond mere label-changing, I would not be surprised to see a new wineskin. I don't think it will be the emergent church. If it were up to me to invent (which it thankfully isn't!), I would take the best of the Reformation, the best of the modern missions movement, and the best of the evangelical renewal, and add in one or more of the flavors from the list below.

1. Liturgy, both corporate and personal. Evangelicals have for too long equated spontaneity with spirituality. Though I'm a huge fan of the Plymouth Brethren, this is one thing I believe they often get wrong. I think the movement of many evangelicals into Orthdoxy, Roman Catholicism, or Anglicanism is in some measure motivated by the realization that informalism can be just as dead as formalism: neither is a guarantee of spirtual vitality. I'd like to see some evangelical liturgies emerge but allow room for informalism as well.

2. Community of a more intentional cast is necessitated by the continuing loosening of social ties in our culture. I don't think we need to start a string of communes, but I think we need to enable deeper relationships so that we can fulfill our biblical mandates in the church. Small groups were a needed step 30 or 40 years ago to provide the structures for one-anothering. My concern is that now they are no longer enough. I don't have a blueprint for what could be better, but maybe the house-church movement can give us some ideas. Maybe the emergent church folks have some ideas too (I expect emergents to bifurcate into those who still care about the gospel and those who don't; the former may have helpful ideas).

3. A pietistic renewal may be needed to help us shed the filthy lucre, entertainment addictions, and material preoccupations--the worries, riches, and pleasures that are choking our fruitfulness. The pendulum has swung pretty far in the direction of what we used to call worldliness.

4. Uniforms. We will all turn down the thermostats in our church buildings and hand out Snuggies at the door.

Okay, so that last one is a joke. But what would you add to (or subtract from) the list?
Mark said…
Oh, and incidentally, my avoidance of political alignment is one of the reasons I'm not a big fan of the Manhattan Declaration.
Sandy said…
Great points all, Mark. Indeed the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the church, but how often we've equated that with a particular movement in history. I think "evangelicalism" (in the broad sense that it has become today) is wandering off in quite a few different directions. And the term evangelical will have meaning for history, but probably not in a defining way in contemporary life. Though I will always think of myself as an evangelical in the sense it has been used historically up til now. Lloyd-Jones' essay "what is an evangelical?" sums it up pretty well.

The Os Guinness interview I think is insightful. Read his take on the emergent church, and a few surprising comments on the Jesus movement of the 70s.

Ditto on how worldliness is disregarded, or embraced, as the case may be. Ditto on politics.

Manhattan Declaration... I haven't signed it either, but I'm not looking at it as a public proclamation or conservative tirade, but rather as a clearly articulated statement of a biblical view of life, marriage and conscience. More for Christians to think well... Colson is pretty good at that.

I think movements, churches and individuals that call us back to the gospel and what that means in depth are a big help. The Word is our authority for piety, behavior, liturgy, and I believe commmunity... it's there, we just haven't applied a lot of it. I'm praying for another awakening, a true God-sent revival for these days, to open our eyes and hearts. Who knows, maybe suffering will be a part of that, too.

Anyway, Mark, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Happy new years to you.
Sandy said…
Oh, and we do have uniforms! For me, almost every Sunday it is: khaki pants, blue shirt, and either one of the following:

1) a tie (the "blessed tie which binds"), or

2) no tie, but add navy blue blazer.

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