It seems like an extreme statement to state that evangelicalism will die. In general, I do my best to try and avoid such statements. However, in this particular case, I think this statement is not only accurate but justifiable. Additionally, not only do I believe that evangelicalism will never change I think it will ultimately die. Here is why.
The Nature of the Problem
Evangelicals universally acknowledge the Bible as the cornerstone of their faith. This biblio-centric worldview often encompasses additional doctrines, such as inerrancy. Furthermore, this perspective necessitates the inclusion of ideas like “certainty.”
Inerrancy, like so many of the doctrines within evangelicalism is held with unwavering certainty. This lack of flexibility can be problematic when addressing contemporary cultural issues that scripture may not directly address or that may not apply within our context. Consequently, this rigidity has contributed to a decline in trust towards evangelicalism.
The reason for this is that even though it might be true that evangelicalism is becoming more tolerant (albeit very slowly), those who teach in the seminaries are not. Because doctrines like inerrancy and distorted views of truth and certainty are the foundation for evangelicalism it remains the case that evangelicals are still not budging on important cultural issues. However, I believe it is this very rigid belief system that will be the downfall of evangelicalism (queue the haunting theme music).
Evangelicalism’s inevitable downfall
A couple of years ago I wrote an article called, Breaking Glass Steeples (it was about whether or not there exists biblical support for preventing women from participating in ministry).
In that article, I noted that I could not believe that evangelicals were still debating this issue. Especially given the more important issues that plagued our culture at the time.
You see I assumed that as each generation became progressively more tolerant than their parent’s generation that would result in the issue of women in ministry not being problematic anymore. However, the amount of support that still exists on this issue is significant and we are not seeing much of a decline even as women’s role within society increases. In other words, even though the glass ceiling is shattering the glass steeple is still well intact.
Theological Inflation = Ecclesiastical Recession
Much like an economic recession, I believe, evangelicalism will experience a theological or ecclesiastical recession. What I mean by that is that as society becomes more and more tolerant and as evangelicalism becomes more and more intolerant there is an imbalance that occurs. The result of this imbalance is largely political as there will be ongoing pressure from society to capitulate. Evangelicalism has two choices when this occurs, they can double down and not move or they can slowly move towards cultural tolerance (and, of course, to save face they would need to disguise that tolerance as something else).
The Southern Baptist Convention is a good example of this. As I and others have reported on the recent situation where Saddleback Church and others were dismissed from the denomination for allowing women to preach shows that not only are many evangelicals willing to double down on the issue but they are also willing to get rid of their second largest church within their denomination. In this particular case, their ongoing recession is not only a result of churches leaving the denomination but also because they are willing to get rid of churches that don’t follow their positions.
To me, all of this signifies that evangelicalism’s decline over the last 10 years is not an anomaly, but will continue to be an ongoing trend. I think we will continue to see this trend grow as intolerance among evangelical churches grows.
Bringing it all Together
By evangelicals holding on strongly to their conviction of inerrancy and certainty, they have a problem. Their theology is static. What I mean by that is, there is very little change that can occur when you hold to certainty the way they do. As culture changes they are unable to change with it. Evangelicals of course would argue the reason is because the gospel is unchanging. And as I have always argued this is a misunderstanding of the situation. Of course, the gospel does not change but how we understand it does. The gospel must be understood in such a way that it can be adapted for each generation. If that does not happen then the gospel eventually becomes irrelevant.
Ultimately, evangelicals will never change because it is in their best interest not to. Changing their stance on important cultural matters necessarily implies that they are compromising their long-held beliefs. This changing stance would communicate to its people that the beliefs they held for so long were incorrect thus opening the door for other important beliefs to be compromised. To pull on that string would be detrimental and result in the evangelical church losing its authority over its people.
Until evangelical leaders have a “come to Jesus moment”, they are going to continue to see a rapid decline in their membership. I believe this will result in one of two things. Either they will shut their doors (highly unlikely), or they will need to reinvent themselves. Can anyone say White Christian Nationalism…
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