When I started this thing called “The Revangelical Movement”, my hope was to cultivate conversations that would help to breathe new life in to Evangelical Christianity in order renew the movement and keep the ship afloat for another generation. There is so much I love about Evangelicalism- from our zeal to proclaim the Gospel, our phenomenal worship music, to our commitment to be rooted in the Bible. The movement has done so much to positively shape the global Church and to expand the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. It was my sincere hope that the movement that introduced me to Jesus and ignited my passion for the redemption of the world would be a lasting presence in the world, at least throughout my lifetime.
But over the last two years the Evangelical movement has taken some very dark turns. As one friend of mine described it, Evangelicalism has hit an iceberg and is taking on water fast. As a result of this accident, many have begun to jump overboard and are seeking a new vessel on which they can express their faith. At the same time, many refuse to acknowledge the magnitude of the damage that has been done to the ship after the collision and instead are clinging tighter to the boat as it begins to sink in to the unforgiving debts of the sea. Still others ran to the bowels of the ship and began trying to repair the damage done by the accident in order to save the ship. I was a part of this last group.
For the past few years, I have seen the amount of damage that has been done to Evangelicalism and tried my hardest to stop or at least slow it’s sinking. But the truth is, the hole is too big, the ships taken on too much water, and very soon, Evangelical Christianity as we know it will have sunk to the bottom of the ocean, where it will lie as a reminder of what was for generations to come. Yes, I believe that all hope of rescuing Evangelicalism from its impending demise is in vain.
Now, many have argued that this “pessimistic” view that is growing in popularity among many young post-evangelicals is unfounded. Those who claim this are the ones who are still holding on to the S.S. Evangelical for dear life, closing their eyes to the endless waves that continue to flood the ship.
Just a few years ago, prominent Evangelical pastor John Piper released a video where he talked about how the “Emergent Church” movement was in its last moments of existence. Piper said:
“The emerging church is a fading reality. I think it has seen its best days. Its leadership is in shambles, and I could give you horrible specifics from personal lives, that I know about that aren’t public yet. And that’s not surprising given how low their view of Truth and doctrine is…Immorality is rampant. So, I think you will not even hear the words “Emergent church” in ten years.”
Now, for the record, I don’t entirely disagree with John Piper’s statements here. I think he was spot on- the Emergent Church movement had seen its best days and had begun to fade. Now, it wasn’t for the reasons he cited, but rather because the movement lacked clear organization and structure. It was never an actual “movement” but a series of conversations and experiments. It’s hard to make that a sustainable presence for very long. But I digress.
What is ironic is that four short years after Piper spoke these words about the Emergent church, the very same statements can be said about Evangelical Christianity. As they say, pride comes before the fall. I do not take delight in the fact that Evangelicalism is a “fading reality”, but I also refuse to continue a charade that pretends that there is any hope for sustainable future for the movement. There simply isn’t. Why?
Well to begin with, its leadership is in shambles. Over the past year in particular, it has been revealed that many of the leading figures and organizations within Evangelical Christianity have been hopelessly wrapped in scandal. Whether we are talking about the heart-breaking sex abuse scandal revealed within Sovereign Grace Ministries, the cult-like pastor worship that has been revealed at Elevation Church, the financial scandals that have taken place at Harvest Bible Chapel, Mars Hill Church, and Elevation Church, (just to name a few), or the abusive and horrific leadership of Pastor Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a case can easily be made that the rampant immorality that continues to be revealed spells the certain death of this once vibrant movement.Beyond the endless stream of immorality and scandal that now has come to be expected from Evangelical Christianity, it is also clear that our valuing of “Truth” (read “Dogma”) over “Relationships” (read “People”) has placed us in a very unfortunate place in our culture and world. Evangelicals have come known, not for our love or proclamation of “Good News”, but for our condemnation of LGBT people, radical political views, and for placing our “values” over the needs of actual human beings. Do you recall the World Vision controversy from just a few months ago? Thousands of Evangelicals decided over night that the lives of the impoverished children they sponsored were not as valuable as making a public statement against World Vision’s new policy that allowed married LGBT men and women to be employed by the non-profit. How can a people who claim to represent the Good News of Jesus have strayed so far from the message of the Gospel? When the very core of a movement is lost, we can begin counting the days until the movement itself falls to pieces.
Based on John Piper’s criteria for that marked the end of the Emergent church movement, it seems to me that we can say with confidence that The Evangelical movement is a fading reality. I think it has seen its best days.
But even beyond Piper’s criteria, there are a number of other indicators that the Evangelical movement as we know it is on the brink of its death. Even though the validity of these numbers are often denied by those who cling to the S.S. Evangelical, the statistics show that young people are leaving the church left and right. There is constant in-fighting within some of Evangelicalism’s most prominent and influential organizations. Churches are being forced to adapt or close in record numbers every year. Evangelical Colleges are in constant uproar due to their views on LGBT inclusion and acceptance. All of this points to one thing and one thing only: The end of Evangelicalism as we know it.
If the history of religious movements has taught us anything, we must be willing to acknowledge that the Evangelical movement is on its final legs and that all of our attempts to slow or stop its death are futile. As with all death, the process is going to be painful. But we also must not lose heart- because out of every death comes the opportunity for new life. Out of the ashes of the once mighty Evangelical movement will arise a fresh expression of Christian faith for a new age. Instead of spending our energies trying to recover what was, I believe that God is calling all of us Evangelicals to bow to the wild winds of his Spirit and allow fresh wind to blow in our sails, taking us into new and uncharted territories.
The death of the Evangelical movement does not spell the death of the Church. I still believe that Jesus was right when he proclaimed that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18) The Church of Christ and the Kingdom of God will continue to prevail and grow in new and exciting ways. And we are invited to be a part of the birth of this new expression of Christian faith just like the innovators of the modern Evangelical movement were called in their day.
I believe that it is time for us to begin making funeral arrangements for Evangelicalism. Or maybe not. Maybe Jesus is saying to us, “Let the dead bury the dead, I’ve got work for you to do.” Whatever the case, I think that the signs clearly indicate that God is bringing a swift end to Evangelicalism and is birthing new forms of Christianity all around. The S.S. Evangelical served the Church well. It sailed one heck of a voyage. But now, it’s time for a new journey to begin. The new ship is about to leave the port and open seas lie before us. God is doing a new thing, and I for one want to be a part of it. Will you join me?