The reaction continues to roll in as the mainstream press surfs through the results of the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), the one that points to the rising wave of the post-denominational age in American religion.
For background on the survey itself, click here to head over to ReligionLink. For my initial reaction to the “fading Christianity” meme in the MSM Round I coverage, click here. The bottom line: Niches ‘R’ US.
However, I expect that GetReligion readers will — sooner rather than later — start running into a Christian Science Monitor essay by Michael Spencer of InternetMonk.com that ran under the apocalyptic headline, “The coming evangelical collapse — An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise.”
Spencer describes himself as a “postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality,” to which I ask, is that “reformation” or “Reformation”?
Anyway, his essay isn’t news copy, that’s for sure. Yet it is a meditation on some of the trends that have shown up in the ARIS survey and in many other places in the past few decades, as I mentioned in my earlier post. These trends are now filtering into mainstream news coverage. I imagine that GetReligion readers are going to want to discuss some of his predictions, as Rod “friend of this weblog” Dreher has already done on his blog.
Read it all. But here is the set of bullets that will set legions of tongues wagging, in Catholic, Orthodox, mainline and Evangelical sanctuaries (both digital and analog). As Spencer sees it, here is the end result of the mainstream Protestant splintering that is just ahead (I have done a tiny bit of pruning):
* Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success. …
* Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the “conversion” of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
* A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from its demise through theological renewal. This is an attractive, innovative, and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing, and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches.
* The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.
* Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear.
* Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion? To do so, it must make a priority of biblical authority. …
* Evangelicalism needs a “rescue mission” from the world Christian community. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. …
And one more for those who must see religion through a political lens:
* Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before — a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.
To cut to the chase, is Spencer merely saying that mainstream evangelicalism needs to settle on a doctrinal core, some kind of creed that defines what that vague, vague, vague word means? Good luck on that. And is he saying that religious liberty will lose some kind of showdown with the sexual revolution at the U.S. Supreme Court?
That’s the kind of detail one would offer in a news report, which this essay most decidedly is not. But still, I wanted to put this up for “Got news?” discussion, before readers swamped us with emails asking us for commentary.