R.I.P. Evangelicalism

When I started this thing called “The Revangelical Movement”, my hope was to cultivate conversations that would help to breathe new life in tosinkship 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?

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  • http://chrishirschy.com Chris

    Good words. I have a thought, it seems best to me for young Christians with evangelical roots to return to other, established traditions rather than creating our own new faith groups. There are traditions out there looking for young leadership that share similar convictions as our young counterparts. I can only image how warm the welcome would be for fresh life and new, creative ideas. Any thoughts?

    • http://adelasteria.blogspot.com/ K. Elizabeth Danahy

      As someone who matches your “young Christian” description, I would say that for me personally, I am definitely drawn towards more traditional churches now that I’ve, uh, left evangelicalism. And I do think I’ll probably end up in one of these churches. But (possibly due to my evangelical roots), I’m also kinda suspicious of ‘legalism,’ judgement, and divisions in traditional churches (although I’ve experienced much of that in evangelical churches, too).
      Are you involved in any of these other traditions? And/or what are your experienced in different Christian denominations?

      • http://chrishirschy.com Chris

        I’m about to start a Ministry Residency (basically an intership during seminary) at an Episcopalian church in Denver, Colorado. I’m not sure exactly what to expect but I look forward to the change of pace. I have a friend who goes to a PCUSA church. They are really open and avoid the “legalism” that you are worried about. I can’t speak for every church but I know that a lot of the main line denominations tend to be open to new ideas and people of different backgrounds and opinions.

        The one down side to some of the main line traditions is that they don’t have modern worship. This isn’t super important but I miss playing in the worship band. I’m a big Hillsong United guy… It’s worth the trade I think.

        • Artistree

          Chris, If Denver has an Anglican Church in North America parish….you might want to keep an open eye on them.
          Some ACNA have “worship bands” yet provide the Sacramental life blood which the soul yearns for.

          • http://chrishirschy.com Chris

            Thanks for the suggestion!

          • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

            You might want to check out Glen Packiam’s church in Denver. He has a book about this that happens to be free today on Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B9N1I7G/

            Glen is a songwriter and has several solo albums and was a part of a fairly well known worship band.

        • fredx2

          Nothing like joining a church that is dying. PCUSA is so tiny, and the Episcopalians have slipped under 2 million, and are steadily losing more. Mostly because they refuse to have much to do with the Bible and want to make up their own stuff. Good luck, though.
          PCUSA recently passed a resolution that their pastors can have affairs outside of their marriages. Doesn’t sound like much of a church to me. Boy, do they ever avoid legalism.

  • James Gertmenian

    I was never part of the Evangelical fold, having grown up in a mainstream/liberal church, having been trained at a liberal seminary, and – most recently – having been pastor of a large progressive urban church. Over the years I have worked with any number of people who came to my church having been wounded by Evangelicalism in some of its less attractive forms. However, I also recognize the great power of Evangelicalism’s history, particularly as it undergirded great social movements of the later 19th and early 20th centuries. Liberalism, naturally, has had its own deficits, and it is no surprise to anyone that “mainstream” Protestantism in America is also fading. I applaud Brandon for a courageous and visionary statement, and I know that it cannot have been easy to write or post. And even though his vision for the future of the church is probably quite different from mine, I join him in affirming that in some form – a form that will likely surprise us both – the transforming work of God will manifest itself again, and ever more powerfully. I have loved Liberalism, just as Brandon has loved Evangelicalism. But I expect that, as best we can, we are both trying to love God and humankind even more.

  • Dan Kimball

    I hope what disappears is the way evangelical is defined in the public square, so to speak. While you have the occasional scandal in evangelical churches (which is horrifyingly sad and destructive when they happen) you can find scandals in liberal and progressive churches too, and in all kinds of churches large and small but they don’t make national news as when a megachurch pastor or “leader” does. We are all broken and things happen all the time in all types of churches theologically, but unfortunately focus on the megachurch evangelical one in the news. Which then does define “evangelical”. As well as the usual politics and things, which also define it. However at the same times there are thousands of evangelical churches who aren’t in scandals. And aren’t trying to build empires but have the same general theology. And for so many wonderful things are happening in them all the time. People getting helped, money given to poverty, churches partnering with anti-sex trafficking groups, the Bible being taught, baptisms, new life…. The other thing is in the church I am part of, I bet 80% or more of the people in our church don’t even associate our church as being “evangelical” as we don’t use the term, although we are solidly theologically evangelical. So I don’t think “evangelical” is dead but the public term may be. But who uses it outside of media and some church leaders? None of my friends who are very much so evangelical pastors use the term to my knowledge in their churches. It is interesting to think about, as many of us evangelicals are just busy and out to fulfill the Great Commission that the terminology isn’t in our language. Although we are. I am going to ask some people tomorrow in our church, if they even know what “evangelical” means and if they would call us an “evangelical” church as never use the term.

    But the media pastors don’t define evangelical for everyone in day to day function and most of us don’t even think about the term too much being immersed in ministry or trying to save it or not. What we care about is people coming to know Jesus, being His salt and light in this world and growing as disciples making a difference in the Kingdom. Whether it is called evangelical or bananavangelical doesn’t matter. What matters is what is our church known for and doing in our local community and if people’s lives are being changed and coming to faith in Jesus and growing and serving Him in this world.

  • Artistree

    Brandan begins, “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.”
    Brandan, the best advice I could give you to breathe “new life” into Evangelicalism would be to visit the “old paths” of the Apostolic Fathers ( the men who personally knew the Apostles. Get “new ideas” from them. You can get their writings from CBD ( Christian Book Distributors) or Amazon.

  • Jason

    I am unable to see beyond the overly-dramatic way in which Mr. Robertson presents this blog post. Just one thing I want to mention from it, namely the World Vision situation. Mr. Roberston seems to want to highlight the social injustice committed again the children World Vision helps because people reacted negatively to WV’s deciding to change it’s employment standards to hire those who living practices are those which Scripture says will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    The perspective he uses is not new. But let me offer an analogy that I think fits Mr. Robertson’s logic well. Would he complain if a mob boss, who does illegal activity, was convicted of a crime becaus the mob boss in some of his or her business ventures hired a community of extremely poor people legitimately but all of them lost their jobs because the mob boss was sent to prison? This seems to be Mr. Robertson’s logic: the greater good is social justice. Little else matters. So, going back to my analogy, what would it matter if the mob boss was engaged in illegal activity as long as part of his business was involved in the “greater good” of social justice. I mean, would it be so bad to send to imprison the mob boss for murdering and having murdered 10 people, let’s say, over 20 years, if he ran a legitimate business that employed, let’s say, 2,000 poor community employees?
    The above seems to be Mr. Robertson’s logic. Evangelicals should not allow people to violate scriptural mandates in one place because they are participating in a “greater good” social justice in another

    • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

      Ah, the old ‘gay people are no different from murderers because they are gay,’ defense. That’s always a gem.

      • Jason

        From a principled scriptural perspective, unrepentant murders and people who practice homosexuality and do not seek repentance will neither inherit the kingdom of God. Both murders and practicing homosexuals can repentance and receive forgiveness, but they must seek it.

        • FaithIsGlorifiedDelusion

          Convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer apparently repented and became a born-again christian while in prison http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Dahmer#Imprisonment_and_death. According to a “principled scriptural perspective” Jeffrey Dahmer may inherit the kingdom of god while any of his victims who didn’t repent of their sins will not. Do you agree or disagree?

          • Jason

            Actually, it was the Irish Atheist who brought up the connection between murder and homosexual practice. Not me. My point was to say this: when do the actions of a organization that does the “greater good” become negative enough to where the greater good it does should be called into question.

            In answer to your question, GlorifiedDelusion. It is not as simple as you want to make it sound to agree or disagree with your scenario. Scripture has examples of people who murdered others and repented by following God through Christ. Dahmer may have become a geniune Christ-follower who will inherit the kingdom of God. I have no idea of the spiritual beliefs of his victims so I can you expect me to judge such a hypothetical. If at some point, if they were given the message and choice to accept Christ and did not, how is Dahmer responsible for their not making the choice when, before their murder, they chose to reject the message of the Gospel? The choice of those who hear and have people live out the message of the Gospel is their choice. If they reject, and then get murdered, how does they choice to reject become the responsibility of their murderer?

            This will be my last reply, as I suspect that you, GlorifiedDelusion and Irish atheist, have little interest in actually dialogue. I’m not sure the intent of your replies to my original post, but I have no interest in argument for the sake of argument. I’m not even sure why atheists and people who believe faith is a delusion would be interested in posting comments on a Christian blog site in the first place.

          • MarcusRegulus

            While I share your frustration with those who seem to make a career of internet contrarianism, Your last paragraph simply requires a thought (or two).

            It is bad policy to presume what other people’s intentions actually are. Far too often, we (sinful creatures that we are) tend to read into other folk’s statements something they never actually said.

            It is my policy not to “second guess” the intentions of other commentators, even those who harass what I may have said.

            Also, as a confirmed controversialist, I welcome the remarks of those who disagree with me. (Well, at least those who propose intelligent and thoughtful rebuttals.) It helps to clarify my own thoughts, and promotes my ability to engage in discourse with those who think outside the box I inhabit.

            After all, we *are* admonished to give a Good reply to those who question what we present. (I need not reference the Scripture.)

          • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

            “Actually, it was the Irish Atheist who brought up the connection between murder and homosexual practice. Not me. ”

            From your very first comment – the analogy that you used for gay people feeding the poor: “I mean, would it be so bad to send to imprison the mob boss for murdering and having murdered 10 people, let’s say, over 20 years, if he ran a legitimate business that employed, let’s say, 2,000 poor community employees?”

            Lying for Jesus doesn’t work when we can all see the original comment.

            And as to why I comment on Christian blogs, when I see an individual like you doing your best to humiliate gay people under the force of your idol until they believe they are not even worthy to hand food to starving children, I will speak up. My morals demand that I do.

        • Pixie5

          Jason, if an atheist wanted to do something for those less fortunate by working with a Christian group that does good work, should that person be rejected? How about a Catholic working for a Protestant charity or vise versa? Or if a Buddhist or Hindu wanted to join in the effort?

          If gay people want to help others then they should not be rejected. In the same passages of Paul condemning gays he says gluttons won’t inherit the kingdom of God either. Are you going to prohibit fat people from working in charities too?

          This is exactly the kind of divisiveness that is making conservative Christianity look bad. Which is exactly the point of this author.

          • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

            Well said.

        • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

          You know, the nice thing about being an atheist is that we can only hold people accountable for what they do and say. We can’t smear them to be something vile or horrific because we think they’re icky.

        • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

          No need to repent. There is nothing to be saved from. God loves absolutely. Everybody goes to heaven.

    • http://katedanahy.blogspot.com/ Kate Danahy

      Jason, I don’t mean to judge you, but I’m guessing you’ve never actually known a two-week-old baby girl who was starving beyond the point of being physically saved, or a four year old boy struggling to breathe with TB, or an 8-year-old who’s never worn a pair of shoes. If you had–if any of these evangelicals had–they wouldn’t care who helped children suffering from extreme poverty, be they gay, atheists, Muslim, whatever. When you looked into the baby girl’s eyes you would know that her life was worth saving no matter who did it, because in keeping children like these kids alive God is glorified.
      Jesus says that whoever offends one of “these little ones” would have been better if if someone had tied a millstone around their neck and thrown them into the sea.
      I left evangelicalism with the WV scandal, because I don’t care what your opinion is on sexual morality. I can’t get the faces of the kids I’ve worked with out of my mind.
      (For the record, I don’t work for WV, but I have worked with similar organizations in India. All of which hire Hindus and Muslims, etc., even though they have a Christian basis. They don’t care who does the feeding, but when you see so many toddlers wind up in graves, you just want the food/education/healthcare to be provided).

      • Jason

        Thank you for the reply. I am not saying that humans (especially Christ followers) are not obligated to support in every way possible, the least of these. I am asking another ethical question: namely, how far would one go to support a person (organization) for making immoral choices before the “greater good” they can no longer be supported. In other words, do the ends justify the means?

        • http://katedanahy.blogspot.com/ Kate Danahy

          I understand your question–I don’t necessarily believe the ends justify the means in many circumstances, but I don’t think that’s the best question to be asking here. *Not* helping kids is unethical/immoral in the most egregious of ways. Breaking a promise to a specific child–to sponsor them (trust me, w/ all the organizations I’ve worked for, they all know their sponsor’s names). Even unsponsored kids in areas orgs like WV work for get aid, so the aid won’t cease (at least not immediately, down the road there is likely to be financial problems that will inhibit aid), but the relationship *matters* to the kid far more than it apparently does to the sponsor. I dread the day some of these kids learn the reason they were dropped (as some are likely to do)–I mean, if I were a sponsored kid and I learned that someone valued not giving jobs to someone they disapproved of over writing to me, well, I wouldn’t want anything to do with that “God” (that seems a little bit like a massive stumbling block to lay down).
          In the Bible, Jesus repeatedly states that we are to care for the poor, and we are especially to care for children. He spoke on that far more than any talk on sexual sin. I honestly can’t see Jesus severing a relationship with that child just because the hand feeding is gay. WV is not harming anybody, unlike the mob boss you cite as an example–it’s a false dichotomy.
          And I will say again that once you’ve actually seen an infant dying and know that aid like WV offers could have prevented that, your priorities change. In the West, we are comfortable and distant. But when you’ve laughed with that face on the sponsoring profile, they become truly a human being, not just a picture. I think the problem with many of these WV people who dropped sponsorship is that they don’t* see the kids as real people. I really don’t mean to imply any sort of supreriority, so I’m sorry if it comes across that way, but seeing such things happening to people you know and care about changes your life. And Jesus knows everyone, loves everyone, and I can’t see Him not crying over what happened with WV. Love should come before the law.

      • fredx2

        No offense, but your post is completely off the mark. There was no link between refusing to hire gays who are married and helping children. World Vision continues to help children at the same rate, no matter what their stance on gay marriage is. Anyone who was going to cease contributing to World Vision because of the gay marriage thing would have just sent their donations to a similar organization.
        God bless you for your work with children, but I think you are linking two things that are not linked.

        • http://katedanahy.blogspot.com/ Kate Danahy

          Thanks for your kind words, but you actually just made my point (I also mean no offense!). It doesn’t matter that said people might have switched to another organization. They made a promise to a specific child (see my comment below for what that promise means to kids), and they broke it. I fear that too many evangelicals view sponsoring kids as just another item in their checklist of how to be a good evangelical. They don’t see him or her as an actual full Person. They hurt those specific children, even if they wound up helping others, and frankly it’s inexcusable.
          And losing 10,000 sponsorships is bound to negatively impact a nonprofit. Just saying.

    • fredx2

      They always use the poor as an excuse.

  • http://www.swordcrossrocket.com swordcrossrocket

    Evangelicalism is not dying. There’s a strong element of hostility towards it in elite culture, and one should be really careful of believing nonbelievers with an agenda to diminish or destroy it. Mostly because if your wispy post evangelicalism is in any way orthodox, they’ll rally to attack it too.

    • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

      Evangelism is working very well for Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 Step brethren. It is not working very well for Evangelicals. Maybe it is your message?

      • http://www.swordcrossrocket.com swordcrossrocket

        It works pretty well as it is. It seems like every generation the idea that “orthodox Christianity is dying” gets put out by the enemies of Christianity, and every generation proves it false. For example, we went from “the de-christianization of Europe” to worries about the power of evangelicals and of the far right in maybe ten years.

        Never trust the secular media on this.

        • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

          I think for myself. I do not trust; I verify.
          I think you underestimate the enmity and disgust what passes for evangelism in modern sects is creating.
          I think given the fact that atheists are now forming congregations for mutual benefit will go a long way toward accelerating ‘the death of God.’ And traditional Christianity.
          But it will be slow. We evolve physically and spiritually slowly but we do evolve.

          • http://www.swordcrossrocket.com swordcrossrocket

            Nah, atheism is the ideology of the rich. It becomes a lot less compelling when you realize its limitations, or get a sense of the brokenness of the world. It’s not going to progress beyond a small percentage of the elite, no matter what it tries.

          • Guest

            Atheism and Christianity are not the only choices available.

          • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

            I have been thinking further about your comment. I think Wm. James ideas about the psychology of religion are a reason why atheism will never be ‘popular.’
            So essentially, I am agreeing with you but for the first sentence. Atheism is the ideology of a certain kind of mind/intellect.

  • DC Rambler

    I would say..The worst thing that happened to modern Evangelicals was their merger with the Republican party and creating hybrid spokespeople like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Mike Huckabee. Added to this unholy alliance is a very annoying chest thumping hubris that makes some Christians strut, bellow and brag with all the bravado of loyal college football fans. They are so busy telling us and each other how awesome they are they don’t even pretend to want to convert us lost losers into their club..That’s the good part..

    • fredx2

      But mergers such as Obama and Jim Wallis, etc is perfectly fine?

      • DC Rambler

        You’re kidding, right ? Obama’s faith is mostly private to him and he rarely speaks of it. Republicans go out of their appear at religious events and parrot the talking points. The whole rise of the GOP in the 80s was due to the calculated plan to create an issue that would rile up Evangelicals and The Christian Right was born in a back room of a political office.

    • stefanstackhouse

      Yes. And it didn’t have to be, either. In the early 1970s there was a very strong Evangelical Left, and through most of the decade Evangelicals could have gone either way, or embraced both wings as being “inside the tent”.

      • DC Rambler

        Indeed ! None of the preachers of that era had ever given a sermon on abortion. It was a fringe issue pushed only by Catholics and it wasn’t until they figured out that it would be and issue that would drive folks to vote and fill the coffers that a campaign was organized between the GOP and the religious right to dominate politics by playing the church people. And it worked..

  • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

    This is all too strong. I think that Evangelicalism is suffering some problems. A number of evangelicals are moving toward more liturgical streams of Christianity and there are real leadership problems. But I think it is way too strong to suggest that the leadership as a whole of Evangelicalism is caught in sin (whether sex, financial or power issues). Rather it is a subgroup that seems to be more interested in either authoritarian leadership (Driscoll), allowing sin to be covered up ‘for the greater good’ (SGM) or the mistaken belief in republican party that will bring about national revival.

    While the growth of Evangelicalism has slowed, it is still a major movement within Christianity.

    • fredx2

      His contention that today’s leadership is beset by problems is just silly. Look at the good old days – Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, etc. The author is just panicking over nothing. There have always been problems with leaders that fail us.

  • RustbeltRick

    While I have zero love for certain parts of the evangelical sub-culture (it’s Neanderthal politics, mostly), I’m not convinced that it is in decline by a long shot. Has evangelicalism shrunk, numerically, in the U.S.? I don’t think so. Is evangelical power waning? Hardly; political conservatism, which is driven in large part by evangelicals, is doing very well and is predicted to have a triumphant November, which will place both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court, solidly in the hands of the Right (ugh). Is evangelicalism suffering from moral scandals more now than in previous decades? I doubt it. The fact that some of its leaders are scoundrels doesn’t mean that all of them are, and this is true of any large movement. Robertson seems to create a lot of wishful-thinking posts. I think he needs to ground his arguments in some deeper analysis, and more hard data.

    • fredx2

      Exactly, It has not shrunk. The media wants you believe it is a passing fad, since they like to dictate to us which bandwagons we should be jumping on and jumping off of. They are incredibly shallow, and so the whole thing to them is about getting Evangelicals to feel like things are going to hell, when they are not.

  • Gail Finke

    As a Catholic with many non-Catholic friends I read this with sympathy and sorrow. I have seen several friends leave their churches (or have their churches implode around them) and their denominations or “non-denominations.” It is heartbreaking for all involved. But again, as a Catholic, I can’t imagine any other outcome. The Catholic and Orthodox faiths (which are really one) have been around for 2000 years. Movements within them have come and gone — the bad ones have gone, the good ones either remain or (when they were responses to political/social situations) ran their courses and faded away. But the Church remains. As a phenomenon, the protestant impulse is based on seizing one idea and running with it to the exclusion of all others. It either fades away or splinters into other groups as members seize a different, related idea and run with it. When these groups vanish or splinter, nothing remains. When they endure for a few decades or centuries, they transform into things their founders never imagined, often directly at odds with the principles they were founded for. Each successive wave and/or splinter is filled with people full of zeal, enthusiasm, and love for God, and yet they keep splintering. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, I”m just posting to give an outside view. Looking at 2000 years around the globe, what a few hundred thousand, or even a few million, people do for 30 or 70 or even 400 years is not very significant — and many protestant and non-denominational movements are much smaller and shorter.

    • fredx2

      Spot on. Look how the author of the article above seems to think that Christianity is simple a series of “movements” which are fads of the day and come and go. He is just waiting for the next fad to jump on.

  • http://aldaily.com Justin L. Conder

    I suspect the reports on the death of evangelicalism have been greatly exaggerated. What I see is the long-term failure of popular church growth models and a gradual acknowledgment of incompatible theological priorities. I think there will be a return of denominational sentiment. The “fuzzy” theology and “big tent” nature of evangelicalism is on the wane. There will never be a big enough tent to hold Al Mohler, Rachel Held Evans, and Joel Osteen. Acknowledging these major fault-lines is healthy – ignoring them and trying to keep the relationship together for the children is just prolonging the inevitable. The church can still be united in Christ while embracing diversity.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-suttle/the-failure-of-the-megachurch_b_954482.html

    Evangelicalism as a movement in the late 20th and early 21st centuries sought to overcome denominational divides and focus on a very basic, uniting conservative theology: de facto biblical inerrantism, conversionism, and a focus on lights-and-show popular worship. It was the McDonaldization of church. However, while that sort of evangelicalism makes big short term gains, it really isolates Christians from the historical streams of Christian tradition and practice (which evangelicalism often treats as unimportant and divisive compared to an individualized relationship with Christ), and it engages cultural issues in a shallow, trivializing manner. This leads to buyer’s remorse for the spiritual seeker.

    I’m no prophet, but I predict four movements will be the beneficiaries of the wane of “megachurch” non-denominational evangelicalism: the neo-Reformed movement, the charismatic movement, a new wave of emergents, and a mainline Protestant revival. The first two will come from a bleeding of dissatisfied conservatives from the more vacuous megachurches. More analytical conservatives tend to be attracted to the Reformed movement, and more experiential conservatives tend to be attracted to the charismatics. Liberal Christians with a skepticism of organized religion in general (the generation that read Donald Miller and Brian MacLaren) will form new emergent strains. And liberals with a love of liturgy, a desire to recover Christian history and tap into older, forgotten wells of Christian wisdom will be attracted to the mainline. Also, I think alot of the self-identified millennial “nones” (and those Brandan referred to as leaving the church altogether) will begin to start looking for churches in their mid-lives.

    The churches they return to will be defined by their reactions to evangelicalism.

    • fredx2

      The fact is that every Evangelical group is still growing, with the exception of the Southern Baptists.

  • John W. Morehead

    I assume this essay refers to American and UK expressions of Evangelicalism. Those expressions found in Asia, Africa, and Central America seem to be doing very well. I think the key clarifying ideas are that American Evangelicalism is on the ropes “as we know it,” and that new forms of it will arise in the future.

    • stefanstackhouse

      Actually, we would all do very well indeed if we would turn our eyes away from our own navel-gazing long enough to actually learn from our brothers and sisters overseas. They have a lot to teach us. Maybe if someone is looking for some alternative to tired, old Evangelicalism as implemented in the USA, they could try replicating as much as they can the way our brothers and sisters overseas do church.

  • suger

    I am Christian and not an Evangelical. I “flirted” with Evangelical Christianity for about 6 years and at the end of it I felt there were far too many contradictions to their theology and life style. In other words I could not find enough people who truly walked the walk. I still attend church and take an active leadership role there. I also believe the church continues to be the body of Christ. Beyond that, I worship with sinners who are redeemed by God and live fully sanctified while we all search for what the heck any of that means. Our worship is traditional and contemporary. Evangelicals need to lose the word “agenda” which is far over used in my opinion. They need to let God breathe a new word in them as the spirit moves through our culture and society. While I believe that God’s word needs to be studied for modern implications in our world today, we need to embrace that God continues to create, renew and teach us for our modern world. I can’t help but think he’s trying to say to all who are so stuck in conservative ways, hey, I’m over here! Stop looking to the right…I’m over here on the left!

  • Michael Phillips

    I think you would be accurate to say rather that Megachurch Evangelicalism is grinding to a swift halt. All of your examples and trends apply primarily to those evangelical churches which grew rapidly. I think the 300 member evangelical church which took 20 years to achieve that size and which is a vital member of its local community will weather the Megachurch collapse quite well.

    As to the statistics saying that attendance is declining, this is misleading at best. Recent studies have shown that the same amount of people are attending mid-size evangelical churches–they are simply attending fewer times per month. If you measure the amount of members and adherents churches have rather than their weekly attendance, evangelical churches continue to grow at a modest rate.

    • fredx2

      ” Megachurch Evangelicalism is grinding to a swift halt. ”

      There is a Megachurch in my area. My sister joined about 4 years ago. Then, they had 10,000 members. Today they have 40,000.

      Not grinding, not halting.

      • Al Cruise

        What area of the country are you in?

    • stefanstackhouse

      The present megachurch craze is not the first time that huge places of worship have been built. Remember the gothic cathedrals? As in our day, people poured outlandish sums into building the biggest and the best, all for housing huge congregations. The buildings are mostly still here, but visit any one of them on a Sunday morning and they will all be astonishingly empty. This is always what happens when too much priority is put on building up the local church building and not enough priority is put on growing the global church.

  • markpeake

    What do you mean by “The Evangelical Movement?” I think perhaps some of the issue is that people don’t understand the 20th century history of Evangelicalism which was more a school of theology and response to Fundamentalism than it was a “movement.” Also, part of the problem is the Fundamentalists, realizing that it’s hard to market themselves under that name have come to call themselves “evangelicals” and don’t really understand the distinction between the two.

  • In Defensor

    When leadership declines, interpretations of theological doctrine become fuzzy. When things get fuzzy, many start to question if they are actually relevant or not. When many start to raise these questions, watered-down, simplistic versions of Christianity arise which emphasize feeling and emotion over study and doctrine. When simple Christianity arises, simple minded Christians are cultivated.

    When a firmly grounded, disciplined member of another faith comes along or even an intellectual, rational atheist arrives, the simple minded Christian is corrupted by false knowledge and “enlightenment” of their own religion’s contradictions.

    Solution: strong, diverse leadership; strong, unyielding, time-tested doctrine; and high level of study and thought with regards to theology (all theologies!) and society.

    No denomination has this perfectly implemented, and we each encounter problems of our own, however there is a reason why orthodox, traditional religions persist and will continue.

    -A catholic

    • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

      Your strong unyielding leadership brought nothing but disgrace to the RCC. Strong leaders Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua used the law degrees the RCC paid for to aid and abet kiddyrapers for years. Nine churches just closed in my diocese.
      You know the definition of insanity, right?

  • Doug Johnson

    Brandon, you just unzipped your fly. RIP? No, you meant to say GTH.

  • Amy

    Great article. Nobody likes growing pains, do they?

  • Chuck

    Is Evangelicalism dependent upon heroes or Jesus Christ? I ask because most of your blog post seems to assume that Evangelicalism requires hero worship. That is, since all the heroes are turning out to be sinful like the rest of us, Evangelicalism is toast and we should all start looking for the next “great thing”.

    “For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” are you not merely human?”
    - 1Corinthians 3:4 NET

    The tone of your blog post sounds a little like Tokyo Rose to me. But, if you’re really despairing and not just titillated at the idea of Evangelicalism’s demise, I would recommend that you grab the nearest paper bag, place it over your mouth, breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out … all better. :)

    It’s not about heroes, movements and fads: it’s about Jesus Christ our Messiah.

  • John Lev

    As an atheist, I find the honesty of this post refreshing and just about dead on. You’re perfectly correct in why people view evangelicals the way they do. For example, I have an aunt who’s one. Normally a pretty caring person. However, when I listen to her talk about how “everyone” who’s on welfare should be forced to purchase only beans and cabbage as well as drive the beat-up, lowest price car available; I don’t see kindness. I don’t hear compassion. I don’t see love demonstrated. The same can be seen on issue’s of gay rights, religious freedoms, individual rights and so on.

    Another issue I see with the evangelical movement is the flat out denial of facts. From global warming and evolution to abortion and contraceptives. I have an evangelical co-worker that I’m pretty good friends with. He’s invited me to church and has been over to my house a few times. In anycase, despite his objections to abortion he flat out refuses to acknowledge the fact that people are simply going to have sex whether he likes it or not and as such, the best proven way to reduce abortions is by ensure that sex-ed is PROPERLY taught in schools and that all forms of contraceptives are widely available to all who seek it. But because of his belief that sex outside of marriage is a sin, he won’t. I find it hypocritical and counter-productive.

    I have other thoughts as to why people are leaving the faith but that’s not relevant to this discussion.

    • fredx2

      Global warming is not a fact. 17 years with no increase in temperature pretty much means the whole thing is a sham. You don’t have a very good understanding of contraception and abortion. All contraceptives methods fail, so 5% or so of the time there will be a pregnancy. Guess what? They then have an abortion. The more contraception, the more abortions. And you think that someone with the idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin is wrong headed? Jeez.

      • John Lev

        //Global warming is not a fact.// – Which is why the majority of climate scientists agree it’s happening.

        //All contraceptives methods fail, so 5% or so of the time there will be a pregnancy.// – Ah! So since it’s NOT a “100%” effective, we shouldn’t adovcate for any use at all? Is that what you’re saying? Leave it in “gods” hands? Condoms have an 18% failure rate. The Pill: 6%. IUD’s 0.2%. Hormonal implants: 0.05%.

        http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/unintendedpregnancy/contraception.htm

        //The more contraception, the more abortions.//

        In St. Lous, they did a study and found that abortions DROPPED by 75% when women had access to contraceptives. And it wasn’t just by handing out condoms but allowing access to the most effective contraceptives out there. The aforementioned IUD’s and Implants.

        The following says it all from the USA article: “So the St. Louis researchers were stunned when 58% of the participants chose IUDs and 17% chose implants, Peipert says: “We found that when cost is not an issue, what is really important to women is that a method work really well.””

        http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/04/free-birth-control-teen-birth-abortion/1613691/

        // And you think that someone with the idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin is wrong headed? Jeez.//

        No. I think someone using that BELIEF (because that’s all it is) as justification against women to deny them access and force them to choose abortions is wrong, hypocritical and counter-productive. Fact is if you’re truly against abortion, then you MUST support free contraceptives.

        • Katherine

          Hi John Lev.
          Your post brings up an important point that Christians and non-Christians alike need to remember. Namely, that the foundational thing that makes someone a Christian is not how they come down on social and political issues, but who they say Jesus is. Christianity doesn’t fall neatly along American political lines…ask my Christian friends in Egypt, Argentina, South Korea and Nigeria: politically, we are hugely diverse, but what unites us is our shared affirmation of Jesus as Savior and Lord. My husband is republican and I am democrat…but the funny thing is that neither of us falls neatly along our party lines a lot if the time. I also know non-Christians who don’t believe in global warming and are critical of welfare…and Christians who favor immigration reform and gun control.

          So your comments remind me that non-Christians need to not judge Christians according to their stands on particular social and political issues. And Christians need to not require each other to agree on things that are non-essential to our Christian identity, and be mindful of how our different views may be viewed by outsiders. So thanks. :)

          • John Lev

            Morning Katherine,

            Thanks for your input and I agree w/ the jist of what you’re saying. Certainly “not all” of any particular group can be lumped into a single category. My aforementioned aunt for example, despite being an evangelical, actually supports gay marriage. Has a gay couple across the street from her that she loves. She thinks they should be allowed to marry and be miserable as everyone else. (<– humor) But seriously, she does support their rights.

            Some think since I'm on the socially liberal sides of things that I'd be all for gun control but I hold a more conservative view on this issue. Within reason. I don't mind backgroud checks and don't think mentally ill should have access to them and I DESPISE those who go carrying around AR's into Target and Home Depot.

            Most atheists I know are not looking to abolish religion. Sure, it wouldn't hurt our feelings if more people rejected it but most I know just want it out of our politics as it was intended to be so we can move forward with effective solutions to problems. It's really disheartening to listen to a member of Congress stand up and claim he thinks Global Warming is a myth because the bible says Yehweh promised the world would not be destroyed again and recites the last few verses of the flood story in Genesis to "prove it". Or like what fredx2 above posted. Completely denying the evidence.

            For those who subscribe to a "live/let live" attitude and are working on effective solutions, I have no problems with.

          • Katherine

            Morning!
            Well said. As someone who loves the science major I had at a “secular” university as well as my seminary MDiv, I, like you, grit my teeth when I hear Christians speaking from perspectives that don’t hold either science or theology very highly. I appreciate when folks like you (and by that I mean non-Christian, somewhat critical, but not looking to pick a fight just for the sake of it either) offer comments on sites and articles like this one. It helps me consider how I may be coming across to others and challenges me to stay centered on what really matters.

            The funny thing is that the root word of “evangelical,” is essentially “good news.” That’s it! An evangelical is **supposed** to just be someone who thinks that the stuff Jesus brings into the world is good, and worth living by (cf the sermon on the mount, for example). Somehow I think a few of us have gotten off message….

            Have a good one!

  • jean

    Brandon, What you have described seems to me to be “Evangelicalism” (capital-letter) as thought of popularly in media and minds, often a mishmash of conflated information, and related to Tea Party politics in the U.S. Yes, this has outdone its passing influence and can’t be gone soon enough. True “evangelicalism” (small letter) will remain as it is & was originally, a reform movement within churches to bring folks back to the biblical basics of belief.

  • The_Clay_Jar

    As a Christian who parted ways Evangelicalism after the World Vision incident, I would like to see a rebirth in evangelical churches. There’s so much I love about Evangelicalsm, but at its current state it makes me sick.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Excellent article. I read many related ones in various blogs and other places. But few put it quite as frankly as this. I’m no longer an Evangelical and support the direction of “movements” such as Emerging/Emergent, but I want to remind readers that Brandon said more than once, “Evangelicalism AS we know it.” The basic theology and ethos will not disappear but it has been transforming “around the edges” as well as sometimes having pockets within collapse.

    And there is great value in these processes. They encourage people to become more mature in their use of the Bible, their understanding of a truly loving (never-coercive or “jealous”) God and their spiritual lives overall.

  • fredx2

    Some people take the media too seriously. They end up believing the stuff that the media puts out and proclaim the death of things that are not dying. As Mark Twain said “reports of my death have been greatly egaggerated.”

    Isn’t it interesting that the only thing that is listed as killing the church is the gay thing? Perhaps some people have motivations other than the health of the church

    • Mech Pebbles

      Absolutely right. And harboring hidden agendas is just plain dishonest.

  • Mech Pebbles

    Young people just love to be dramatic and sensationalist.

  • Mike D’Virgilio

    This is wishful thinking combined with left wing drivel.

  • williamwalker

    Great article — gives me lots to think about :)

  • Daniel Hill

    Great article Brandan. I’m not quite to the level of certainty you are about it’s imminent death, and I do still think the term evangelicalism is confusing enough to leave room for certain parts of evangelicalism dying and other parts surviving, but overall i completely track with your logic. Compelling and interesting

  • Kevin

    The door to the unsinkable ship of Roman Catholicism is always open. Instead of spawning yet another movement in the wake of drowning evangelicalism which offers no promise of holding fast, why not just join the Church?

    • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

      Who would now join a church that aided and abetted the rape of children for decades? Nine RC churches just closed in my city. Sad but just.

  • http://readingscripture.org Ron Henzel

    This is like, the biggest load of crap I’ve read in—well, since I last read anything by Frank Schaeffer. So I guess that takes me back to last Friday. If anyone believes this garbage, the only funeral that should be held would be for their intellectual capacities.

  • http://www.davidlgray.info/ David L. Gray

    We invite you home to the Catholic Church! For 2,000 years the Gates of Hell have not prevailed against it, because Jesus promised that they wouldn’t. For nearly 2,000 we have been teaching the same thing on faith and morals. We are still the only Church that believes in the Real Presence of Christ Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. We are still the counter-cultural Church; even moreso today. We are still the only Church that can prove that our faithful members make it to Heaven – we call them Saints and their miracles wrought from their prayerful intercession in Jesus’ name is proof that love and service to Christ never dies.

    Come on home! The Protestant experiment has failed. 500 years is long enough for pride and rebellion.

  • Mike Ward

    Is this blog going to move to the Progressive channel?

  • http://www.prophecysociety.org/ Dan Bruce

    The predictions for the S.S. Evangelical remind me of something written by Solomon long ago: “There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a young woman” Proverbs 30:18-19.

    Keep searching, Brandan, the body is indeed in need of rebirth.

  • Diego

    I would like to share my thoughts and experience about the great division in liberal/conservative Christianity in North America.

    I came to Canada a few years ago, to pursue graduate studies in civil engineering. One of the first things that I did was to look for a church. I found one a few blocks from my home, a congregation from the United Church of Canada. The first Sunday that I attended service I was surprised by two things: the beauty of the building and how empty it was: there were at most 20 people including the church staff. I was not aware at the time that the United Church of Canada is one of the most liberal “denominations” in North America, and they even have atheists leading congregations in Ontario.

    I never felt comfortable in that congregation, in my opinion they preached about everything except the Gospel. Frequently I felt like I was attending the public reading of a blog, rather than going to church. Therefore I decided to looked for a new church; I visited a few congregations of the Anglican and Presbyterian churches, but I felt the same: empty churches pursuing a liberal agenda.

    Finally, I found a church in the campus of the university, which I guess can be defined as Evangelical. The difference was huge: the congregation was (and is) thriving and I can say with certainty that it really aims to follow God and be faithful to the Bible and the Gospel.

    Therefore, I believe that if there are some churches that are dying, those are the liberal ones, not the evangelicals. And if you get out of the North American bubble you will realize that in the global south the liberal churches don’t even exist, and most Christians there would be appalled by their doctrine.

    I can tell by experience.


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