The Internet has made the trivial significant and the significant trivial. It's stunning, and the possibilities/actualities for good and bad are endless. Idiots and angels are pouring out content and the responsibility is completely and totally on the individual to sort through it all. We wouldn't be having this conversation if my writing didn't create the level of trust and influence I have. I used to preach to 300 people at the school at I work for and 25 at a church on the weekend. Now I write, analyze, preach, opine and entertain thousands and thousands in a relationship that only exists through this medium. It's amazing and frightening.
Evangelicalism has benefited from the Internet, though some of the old-line keepers of authority aren't happy with that. My denomination has some talented young voices in the blogosphere reshaping how we are perceived and giving us a voice in the emerging culture, but "blogger" is a bad word around most of the denominational types, who resent the way it empowers those who aren't in the "club." I'm fascinated by the Internet's ability to create community. Not the deepest levels of community, but a level of community that does a lot of good in the world. I'm glad evangelicals have, for the most part, chosen to enthusiastically participate.
Q: You caused quite a media stir with your blog on the demise of evangelicalism. Southern Baptists probably don't agree with you. How do you get them to see the point?
A: My denomination is the "grayest" in America. It has the largest percentage of members over the age of 70 of any mainline denomination. That means that a generational horizon is approaching. Within 20 years, a lot of funerals and very few replacement members will bring an end to a lot of small churches.
The small to medium-sized rural American church in the Bible Belt is very resilient, but the curtain is dropping for many of them. Others will grow and many will survive, but I think the religion of my Bible Belt culture is in a far more precarious situation than anyone realizes. If my state weren't so culturally friendly to the church, I think the situation would already be much worse than it is. By the way, I don't predict the demise of evangelicalism, not at all. I believe there will be a collapse of segments of evangelicalism that have been over-hyped.
Generational change will make the financial situation much different for a lot of ministries, especially schools and media. Megachurches will not continue to flourish. Some will, but others will not be able to sustain the necessary levels of participation. Rising numbers of non-religious are going to change the future of evangelicalism as many of those persons will come from evangelical churches. All in all, evangelicalism will be smaller, more diverse, more chastened. Pentecostalism and third world evangelicals are going to take the stage for a while.
Q: You talk about Pentecostalism as a type of evangelicalism? Don't Pentecostals, estimated to be 600 million by some statisticians, stand alone? Might evangelicalism be eclipsed by Pentecostalism?
A: Pentecostals are evangelicals. Ever seen Jesus Camp? In fact, the line between Evangelicals, conservative Protestants and Pentecostal/Charismatics has gotten quite vague. You'll see charismatic style worship in a lot of Southern Baptist churches. Promise Keepers comfortably mixes all kinds of Christians in a charismatic-leaning style of worship and response. Even gifts like healing and speaking in tongues occur well outside the previous lines of separation.
Pentecostals believe in the authority and inspiration of the Bible, personal transformation, evangelism, missions and salvation by grace through faith. They are the most vital segment of evangelicalism in many ways, especially in regard to diversity and crossing cultural lines. Many independent evangelical churches are practically identical to Pentecostals, and the "third wave" of evangelicalism is heavily Pentecostal/Charismatic. Leaders in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity are some of the highest profile evangelicals in the world. Pentecostalism is the "Borg" of evangelicalism in many ways. Its style and adaptability allows it to influence and assimilate all kinds of churches.
I believe Pentecostalism has a lot of issues to deal with, particularly with leadership, scriptural authority and the prosperity Gospel, but it is going to be the majority report in evangelicalism for quite a while, and much of that will come from its worldwide success and influence.