The Collapse of American Evangelicalism?

One of the hottest recent discussions in the Christian blogosphere is centred around Michael Spencer’s (otherwise known as iMonk) thoughts, maybe predictions, concerning the coming evangelical collapse. If you click on this link, it will take you to an article on his blog, which also has the necessary links to his three articles on this topic.

IMonk summarises his thoughts with these words:

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.”

So much discussion has arisen around this topic that it even made it on the Drudge Report on 10 March, and this site has some 25 million hits each day! iMonk’s thoughts also made it onto the Christian Science Monitor website, and just recently the senior managing editor of Christianity Today wrote up an article about these ‘predictions’.

I have also noticed that two other blogs I regularly frequent have referred to iMonk’s articles in their most recent posts – Parchment & Pen and Christians In Context.

My point in posting all of these links is to show how recently important these thoughts seem to be in the Christian blogosphere world, at least for the blogs I hang around.

I have noticed that a few of my non-American friends have not easily understood iMonk’s thoughts. Well, it’s not that they haven’t understood the words and phrases put together in the articles, but, knowing they come from Europe, the articles have caused some confusion. They are just not as aware of current American culture.

So, what is evangelicalism, at least from an American standpoint, since iMonk predicts it will collapse? And that is a good question. Unfortunately, while Americans tend to write to Americans (which makes sense), their thoughts are going to be read amongst a wider audience, especially if things get plastered on the Drudge Report. Yet, it is easy to forget that others might come across their words. And that’s fine. It’s just that we forget that clarification can be helpful (for semantics is important, right?). So, someone in a western European culture, or subcontinent Indian culture, might just wonder what Spencer (iMonk) might be getting at.

What most people don’t realise is America is the only current nation with a Christian subculture. There are probably more Christians in China or India by now with the rapid growth in the past 20 years, but America is the only place where a subculture of Christianity has been created. And it is this subculture which we could call American evangelicalism. Or Michael Patton over at Parchment & Pen describes it as pop-evangelicalism.

To be evangelical simply points to such facts as believing in justification by faith alone through grace, the Bible is the final authority of the believer’s life, that we should look to communicate the good news (evangel) to nonbelievers, and an emphasis on a personal conversion, or new birth, experience.

None of these are necessarily bad. And, actually, they are all quite helpful.

But the American evangelicalism subculture, at least in the past 20 years, has tended to work itself out in such ways as megachurches housing multiple thousands of members (or local churches hoping and aiming to become megachurches); very media-frenzied or at least having a cool sound system with lights, cameras, and action; leaning heavily towards the political religious right; performance and program driven with non-participatory audiences that want a product to be served up to them.

I know these words are harsh, but this is what has come to be defined as American evangelicalism in the past two decades or so, or at least partly define this subculture. And I will be honest, it’s a far cry from what I read in Acts and the New Testament letters. When you read the New Testament, you get this idea that the church, God’s people, were all about family. But, unfortunately, America has let both capitalism and consumerism dictate church expression in the 21st century. As one friend of mine aptly put it:

‘In Biblical times, the greatest institution upheld was that of the family, and therefore God’s people were referred to and functioned as such. In 21st century America, the Church mainly functions like a business because that has become the greater institution of our culture.’

No, I am not suggesting we all become Amish or isolate ourselves in monasteries. It might be hard to fulfill our commission to be salt and light then. But I am saying that our expression of Christianity, our life as the church, the body of Christ, should first and foremost reflect what the New Testament reflects. And it is America, or at least American evangelicalism, that has moved itself quite far away from such Biblical understanding.

So, for my European friends, that is my take on American evangelicalism, the subculture that iMonk says will soon collapse.

As I end, I just wanted to share a final few thoughts in regards to the shaking of American evangelicalism.

The reason I believe this particular subculture of America is, and will continue to be, shaken up is that all ‘isms’ are bound and determined to collapse. What do I mean? Hebrews 12:26-29 teaches us that there was a shaking that took place in the past, but there will be a future one to come:

26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

I don’t share these verses as some gloom and doom date predicter about the soon-coming destruction of the world. But I always remember these verses when considering any ‘ism’ or movement in our world.

Revivalism, evangelicalism, ecumenicalism, protestantism, roman catholicism, or any other ‘ism’ is not necessarily inherently evil. But all ‘isms’ and movements usually get caught up in their own mindset, their own perspective, and this generally leads to such followers being steered from the truth of the kingdom rule of God. So a shaking will come, must come, and those things that are not truly grounded in the kingdom rule of God will shake, collapse, and fall. There is no doubt about it, for Scripture teaches us this will happen. And I believe this is a good thing. Not easy, but good.

If someone’s faith is shattered because American evangelicalism collapses, or any other ‘ism’ collapses, then that is a good thing. It shows that their faith was not founded firmly upon Christ and His kingdom alone. But the good news is that God would use this time of shaking and collapse to rebuild something on the true foundation of His kingdom. Thus, I would openly welcome an American evangelicalism collapse.

So, check out iMonk’s articles. See what you think. Check out the other links that I’ve posted as well if you have time. I might share some more thoughts along these lines in the near future. But let us all be challenged to found our beliefs and actions on Christ and His kingdom, rather than on the philosophies of American evangelicalism, or any other ‘ism’ for that matter.

Click here to read some more thoughts of mine on this topic – Guarding Against Consumerism.

One thought on “The Collapse of American Evangelicalism?

  1. You could even compare American Evangelicalism to the recent market economy bubble and its subsequent collapse.

    Anything that gets too “big” for it foundation is destined for the ground.

    Good work, Scott. Keep it up.

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