Orange Country, Robt Schuller, Rob Bell

From The American Scholar:

A bit of a finger-pointing at evangelicalism’s lack of ability to adjust to changing demographics. Jim Hinch looks at Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral of Robert Schuller and it’s dissolution, at Dave Gibbons’ adjustment to changing demographics, at the demise of evangelical megachurches, and then one gets a bit of a “Where’s Rob Bell now?” scenario.

In a few years, perhaps a decade or two, religious America will catch up to Orange County’s present. There will be a shrinking number of evangelical megachurches, gradually aging and waning in influence. There will be numerous small, eclectic, multiethnic evangelical congregations whose emphasis on spiritual commitment and social service is unlikely to attract a large, mainstream following. And there will be surging numbers of immigrant Catholics, Pentecostals, and Muslims. The political influence of evangelicalism will decline. America will not become like Europe, where ossified state churches proved unable to compete against the inherently secularizing forces of market capitalism—and where immigrants’ faith expressions are often met with hostility. America will remain exceptionally religious. But traditional evangelical Christianity will no longer be a dominant presence in that religiosity.

… When I spoke to Bell earlier this year, he was still in the first flush of California love, waxing lyrical about the spirituality of surfing (he owns seven surfboards and arranges his schedule around the daily surf report). He was also at work on plans for a television talk show. Bell represents the new breed of young evangelicals who are, with gathering speed, reshaping and in some respects dissolving their movement. A decade ago, Bell was lionized in the evangelical world for blending the movement’s age-old formula (conservative theology; rapid, corporate-style growth) with hip new brains and style (sermons larded with quantum physics; a YouTube video series). Yet, like so many younger evangelicals, Bell grew disenchanted with church. By the time he wrote Love Wins, he was already fantasizing about Southern California, where he had attended graduate school. Bell doesn’t go to church in Laguna Beach. He and some friends from college have formed a quasi-intentional spiritual community, gathering in one anothers’ homes to worship and talk about faith.

“Evangelicals are good at whipping people up into a frenzy, and then you’re like, ‘What was that?’ ” Bell told me. “I was the pastor of a megachurch, and lots of people came, and I did book tours and interviews and films. That’s fine. But I’ll take seeing God every day, which is washing dishes with my kids and walking my dog and interacting with someone I just met.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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