We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity.
I have already been seeing this. Oddly enough, just yesterday I said in an email to a friend,
I suspect that we are in the beginning of upheavals –economic, political and social– on a historic scale and the landscape might look very different in just a few short years. We could hope that a spiritual realignment will come out of this too. It’s been apparent to me that nobody is a moral relativist when it’s their own ox being gored, and between layoffs and 401Ks a lot of us have been gored. I hope people will wake up and recognize relativism for the contrivance and evasion it is, and start looking around for a worldview with staying power. And we will need it, because it seems to me that if many more people reject the values of democratic pluralism we could be into a rather ugly form of dictatorship. I know I sound a bit unhinged, but in the past when the same factors have been in play the outcome hasn’t been good. People don’t realize what a historical anomaly democracy really is.
For decades now the idea has been pushed by the West’s culture makers, that it’s not just OK to not be a Christian, but there’s something wrong with you if you are one. It means you’re ignorant, bigoted, uneducated, mean-spirited, hypocritical, repressed to the point of neurosis, and an all-around impediment to the happiness and well-being of others. Or as it was put to me by a coworker a while ago, the only reason a person wouldn’t favor gay marriage is because they are afraid of people who are different or they let others tell them what to think. No room for disagreement here; in the name of pluralism dissent is unacceptable. Think I’m imagining things or exaggerating? It wasn’t long ago that shootings and violent demonstrations in churches and church vandalism were unheard of. Now they are so common that they sometimes don’t even get mentioned in the news.
Still, I agree with the author that evangelicalism’s woes are largely self-imposed. While I am generalizing and there are exceptions –there are evangelical Christians who are wonderful, Christ-like people and evangelical churches that do some great things– I think that in general there are some systemic problems.
It begins with worship. There are churches where corporate worship in song has been replaced with a “praise band” who perform the the audience in the pews. (The problem is not about particular musical styles or instruments, but the motive and focus.) Sermons are so far on the seeker-sensitive and nurturing side that there is no sin, however so egregious, that the pastor will confront from the pulpit or in person. A lot of sermons are instead geared to being well-adjusted and developing a personal relationship with Jesus that might or might not manifest itself in how one’s life is lived. Serving others, godly living, self-sacrifice: these things are very much optional. Biblical literacy is low and –following the wider secular culture– people don’t know how to think and really don’t care. In short, much of evangelicalism has become a feel-good country club in clerical drag. Or at least in Dockers and a Hawaiian shirt. This statement captures the essence of the problem:
[T]he 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.
Which is to say that the emerging generation has been raised on a diet of entertainment with a Christian veneer, which more subtly confirms the message they get from secular culture as well: “It’s all about you.”
Also, as I have been complaining for years, evangelicals have sold their spiritual birthright for a mess of political pottage. In defining themselves in terms of what they are against and failing to show the wider society something better (is gay marriage really a bigger threat to the sanctity of marriage than all the divorce and remarriage among all nour nice, respectable, straight church people?) or showing much love for one’s neighbor, the evangelical movement has not been so much about good news as it has been about “thou shalt not’s” and condemnation. Well, condemnation of other people’s sins anyway.
These failures within evangelicalism have resulted in self-marginalization and made it all the easier for the anti-Christians who help shape culture to caricature and demonize Christians and Christianity. This is one of the factors that has led me to embrace Catholicism. In contrast to this behind-the-curve, secular-culture-wagging-the-church-dog approach that bespeaks not a timeless, eternal message but a taking of cues from the secular world, the Catholic Church remains paradoxically relevant –indeed, prophetic– despite (or rather, because of) a conscious decision to not try to be trendy. It will survive long after evangelicalism as we now know it joins the pile of history’s discarded ideas like the Protestant fundamentalism that preceded it. Attila and his Huns swept all before them but stopped short of Rome.