The End of the Dance?

Carl Trueman:

I’m thinking @fitchest will like this one.

Reading Janik and Toulmin’s Wittgenstein’s Vienna a few years ago, I was struck at how oblivious the last generation of the Austro-Hungarian empire were to the imminent collapse of their world. One might say they kept waltzing up to the very moment that they suddenly found they could waltz no more. Yet all around them their world was slowly but surely coming to an end. From the surrounding European politics to the nihilism of the satirist, Karl Kraus and the early philosophical stirrings of the great Wittgenstein, the signs of the end of the age were all around.

American conservative evangelicalism, like Vienna in 1914, seems to its leadership relatively healthy but it is quite possibly enjoying the last waltz as forces round about conspire to undo it. Last week, three very different events reminded me of the problems. A recently disgraced former ministerreappeared, ready for the conference circuit. An influential ministry brand published a new creed, seeing the liturgy of the church as a yet untapped area for product placement. And remember when I averred that parts of Protestant evangelicalism seemed to be run by the Mob? Well, soon it could be official as Mark Driscoll, fallen megachurch pastor, found himself the subject of a RICO indictment….

Brands have a place—but not at the center of the Christian life. If conservative evangelicalism cannot wean itself off using brands as a primary focus of identity—brands that are tied to particular personalities, that cost a lot of money to maintain, and which often exude a breathtaking sense of importance (all for the sake of Jesus, of course) then the kind of corruption noted above will continue. Moreover, the future is simply unsustainable in anything like its present form. Economically, patterns of parachurch funding are set to change dramatically in the next ten years, even without any change in tax exempt status rules. The future may be hard to predict with precision but it will be different. And now is the time to prepare for that.

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