The Christian Science Monitor has published an editorial about the decline and perhaps demise of modern Evangelicalism.  Titled “The coming evangelical collapse” Michael Spencer gives current examples and reasoned predictions that validate what Barna has been warning for some time.  I disagree with some of his predicted outcomes (or maybe I don’t want to listen), but he does make a point that “fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.”

The crux of his argument is that Evangelicals have gotten distracted with social issues, and

“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 wars, 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. “

This is not a new finding.  In his 1972 work Why Conservative Churches are Growing, Dean Kelly quoted Franklin Littell’s The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (1964).  Kelly and Littell say that parents – even at that time – hadn’t fully passed on their faith, so the children did not even have a full faith to teach their own children.

“In churches in the US, they have not only ‘halved the covenant’ for their children again and again until there was scarcely a sliver left, but also progressively relaxed the standards of membership … members often had only the vaguest notion of what the church they were joining believed or required. …As a result, Littell observes, the churches became filled with baptized pagans, who soon far outnumbered those who had gained and kept some understanding of the obligations of discipleship.”

Even in 1972, Kelly, who wrote the book while on sabbatical from the National Council of Churches, noted “Renewal does not take hold unless it is embodied, exemplified, lived out by a particular group, who show the way to a stronger faith by taking it themselves.”

And that is exactly the problem Michael Spencer is addressing. He claims that “denominations are going to become largely irrelevant” and “many marginal believers will depart.”

Spencer is spot on when he says that if churches survive they must move from maintenance mode to a “new evangelicalism” that returns to the authority of what the Bible says instead of what we want it to say, while continually reinterpreting the form for our culture.

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References:

Barna, George “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” Barna Seminar, 9/30/03
Kelly, Dean M, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (NY: Harper & Row, 1972), p104, 114
Littell, Franklin H. The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (NY:Macmillan Co., 1964) and From State Church to Pluralism (NY: Doubleday, 1962)
Spencer, Michael “The coming evangelical collapse” in The Christian Science Monitor, 10 Mar 09, http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html

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