A further thought: I wonder if these types of trends are accelerating due to what I speak of in this post?
Indulge me. I want to suggest there have been two events in recent times, which are portentous for what we call evangelicalism. When a rock is dropped in a pond, waves are set in motion. We see or feel them in time, based on distance. These two events, among others, are rocks dropped in a pond. Their waves are coming, they’re just not here yet.
These two events, I believe, amount to a death sentence of sorts—one handed down, but not yet executed. My sense is these waves, which picture the ideas and consequences set in motion by those events, portend the death of modern, American, evangelicalism.
Yes, I know the supposed death of evangelicalism or fundamentalism have been foretold many times over the years and we should smile if those of that tradition were to echo Twain, that the reports of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated. And I should be clear, rarely does any significant historical movement entirely die out. Obviously, I’m speaking metaphorically and mean by “death,” simply cultural irrelevance and loss of influence. Additionally, I readily admit I could be wrong.
I also know that movements and traditions are capable of change. It’s possible that enough leaders and thinkers in that tradition will also see what’s coming, what’s on the horizon, and move people to change—to see and think differently—to act differently. So, there are many wild cards in play here. I give no great weight to any prophetic gifting I may presume here, other than to say—it’s also possible I may be onto something.
With those caveats, I will stride forth. Modern American evangelicalism (and their cousin, fundamentalism) could be considered, in my opinion, dead men walking–but I speak mostly here to evangelicalism. Alive, yes, but the clock is ticking. Some evangelicals may read this and respond, “But the gates of hell will never prevail over the church, and the gospel will never pass or be defeated!” Rah, rah.
Yes, I agree. But that’s not what I’m suggesting. The truth is that traditions, denominations, movements, and schools of thought, theologies, do in fact die, or fade into history. The vagaries of history and events in general can coincide in such a way that leads ultimately to their demise. If anyone doubts this, simply read some history books chronicling either Christian history or religion in general.
Again, I’m not speaking of the Church Universal, but of historical traditions, splinters, streams, arising in temporal time. Only pride would ever lead a religious group or tradition, produced by an enormously complex matrix of historical events, to believe (as if similar events could not arise in the future) they were somehow a permanent feature of temporal time–blessed above all others.
Of the two events I speak of, one is well known and one more hidden, one political and the other, theological. The public, political, and better-known event or stone dropped in the water, was the “election” of Trump.
Of this first event, not much needs to be written that hasn’t already. This was such a grievous, unwise, small, petty, ignorant, and immature act of hypocrisy on the part of evangelicals, it still staggers the imagination and the slightest rational mind. After all, what tradition or movement could possibly teach for decades the importance of personal morality, integrity, honesty, and character in political leaders and then turn on a dime and vote for the exact opposite—all to say yes to the devil’s temptation of political power? This was the first shout of, “dead man walking.”
The second, more hidden, and theological event was the publication of two books. One book was popular (infamously?) and written for a general audience, while the other is probably less known to the general public and written more for the serious reader or academic audience. However, both make the same claim, to wit: Love wins, and all shall be saved. Both books, in their own way, come to the same conclusion. As to the end of all things, the cosmos, everything and every person—all will be redeemed, even as if by fire. This was the second call of, “dead man walking.”The first event revealed the ethical, social, political and intellectual poverty of evangelicalism. The warning given many years ago now, in general, was either not heeded or misunderstood. The continued Babylonian captivity to consumerism, nationalism, blind obedience to one party, the practical, entertainment and numbers over spiritual formation and deep theological reflection has led to a number of problems. Foremost, we now see, a people willing to vote for (or tacitly agree with by remaining silent) an ethically challenged, ignorant clown.
The second event, undercuts the very raison d’être of the evangelical tradition. What does the verbal proclamation of the gospel, witnessing, sharing—the telling of others about Jesus and salvation mean now, once we remove the specter of hell as an infinite consequence for the failing to “accept” Christ in this temporal, finite earthly life? When the edifice is built upon the idea the neighborhood is on fire, but the inhabitants are unaware—thus one’s job, one’s whole existence, is to warn them the house is on fire so they might be “saved,” and we find that edifice cracked, well…what then?
Having said that, the proclamation of the gospel, evangelism, and making disciples will go on (lest evangelicals’ shudder at my words). We are clearly tasked with such. However, once these books have been digested (along with many others), we will see these tasks in a completely different light–or we should. Evangelism will become (what it has always been), a lived announcement of the news already announced here:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
The good news isn’t turn or burn. That’s the message of a sociopath. The good news, as just noted by Christ in Luke’s gospel, is truly good as it announces a new paradigm, a new Kingdom, a way of life that subverts whatever structures and powers were in place (including our own hearts), that led to the creation of the categories of persons he identifies, in the first place.
It is primarily something lived and not just, “shared.” One cannot bring such a message without doing something about these very categories making up the audience, the recipients of this good news (otherwise, we are hypocrites). This is something evangelicals have always reversed, putting mouth before foot, with a view toward a supposed future hell, rather than any present ones.
The good news isn’t about saving people from a future hell of eternal torture, but about the announcement hell has been harrowed and all the gates and locks have been destroyed by the death and resurrection of Christ. The “how” or strategy of this announcement is in the loving and serving of others, especially our enemies—thus, the Kingdom comes. What will evangelicals do when they realize the so-called “social gospel,” is really…just…the gospel?
Now, again, I may be wrong about all this. I probably sound like that bothered, troubled mind, Nietzsche, and his madman:
“I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”
Still, I have the eerie sense that just like the character played by Bruce Willis in the movie Sixth Sense, the white (yes, I add white here at the end for accuracy) evangelical tradition, as presently situated, is dead. They just don’t know it yet.
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