Goodbye, Evangelicalism
Is the decline of religion in America a sign of the death of evangelicalism?

In the last 24 hours, USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor have both released less than cheery articles on the future of faith in America.

"The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation," reports Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today. "The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers - or falling off the faith map completely."

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found that, "despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990."

That means that religious people are not simply being redistributed from one religion or denomination to another, but that more and more people are abandoning all faith altogether.

According to ARIS findings, "So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists." (You can read the rest here.

Bleak news, perhaps. But not as bleak, or specific, as Michael Spencer's observations at The Christian Science Monitor. Spencer argues, "We are on the verge - within 10 years - of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West."

Spencer's predictions do not end with the fate of evangelicalism. He sees antagonistic political postures and declining public support of evangelical Christianity on the horizon. "This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West," he writes. "Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good."

According to Spencer, the result will be that "evangelicalism [will] look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success."

Spencer may show his cards when he prophesies the hope for the church's future: "We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century." (Read the rest here.)

Together these articles raise interesting questions. Is the decline of religious adherence in the U.S. a sign of the death of evangelicalism? Or is it an opportunity for the gospel? From where you stand, do you see evangelical Christianity on course to certain demise, or is there hope for maintaining the movement in its current form? What needs to change? What must we preserve? Remember, keep it short and keep it civil.

March 10, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 46 comments

Bruce Muirhead

March 02, 2013  9:05pm

Hey Fellas, ( DIDN'T NOTICE ANY LADIES MAKING COMMENTS HERE -iSN'T THAT SOMETHING) Anyway, it is great to see how many of the guys...and I suspect - young guys- are into this discussion; Goys from my generation ( I am 73 years old) are probably asleep at 5 minutes to 11 on a Saturday night. And so you want to see some changes made? Then do it! Be radical! Don't worry about Muslims taking over the USA or Canada; no sir! Bring them the good noews of the Kingdom of God. In the 1st 66 years after the resurrection we won around 20% of the Roman empire to Christ while they were trying to figure out how to eliminate us. By the end of the 2nd century we were at the gates of Moscow. Then in the 3rd century they made us republicans ... political, I mean. That messed us up. First the RC mess, then the European political religions, the the "made in America" brand with mass evangelism, $ and power, manipulation, etc. Ins spite of this, God's word prevails. We read it; He speaks; we listen; He teaches us all things and reminds us of what Jesus has said. Will "evangelicalism" fail? It already has. Will the word of God fail ? Not on your life! After all - Jesus is "the Word made flesh." and He is building a church - an ecclesia - a called out gang- that will tear down the very gates of hell. So be it; come Lord Jesus!

Report Abuse

usb speicherstick

October 14, 2009  2:56am

Thank you so much. It is great information. I appreciate this information. You have done nice job.

Report Abuse

Alicia

April 04, 2009  12:35am

PRETRIB RAPTURE DISHONESTY by Dave MacPherson When I began my research in 1970 into the exact beginnings of the pretribulation rapture belief still held by many evangelicals, I assumed that the rapture debate involved only "godly scholars with honest differences." The paper you are now reading reveals why I gave up that assumption many years ago. With this introduction-of-sorts in mind, let's take a long look at the pervasive dishonesty throughout the history of the 179-year-old pretrib rapture theory: Mid-1820's - German scholar Max Weremchuk's work "John Nelson Darby" (1992) included what Benjamin Newton revealed about John Darby in the mid-1820's during his pre-Brethren days as an Anglican clergyman: "J. N. Darby was a very subtle man. He had been a lawyer, or at least educated for the law. Once he wanted his Archbishop to pursue a certain course, when he (J.N.D.) was a curate in his diocese. He wrote a letter, therefore, saying he had been educated for the law, knew what the legal course would properly be; and then having written that clearly, he mystified the remainder of the letter both in word and in handwriting, and ended up by saying: You see, my Lord, such being the legal aspect of the case it would unquestionably be the best course for you to pursue, etc. And the Archbishop couldn't make out the legal part, but rested on Darby's word and did as he advised. Darby afterwards laughed over it, and indeed he showed a copy of the letter to Tregelles. This is not mentioned in the Archbishop's biography, but in it is the fact that he spoke of Darby as 'the most subtle man in my diocese.'" This reminds me of an 1834 letter by Darby which spoke of the "Lord's coming." Darby added, concerning this coming, that "the thoughts are new" and that during any teaching of it "it would not be well to have it so clear." Darby's deviousness here was his usage of a centuries-old term - "Lord's coming" - to cover up his desire to sneak the new pretrib idea into existing posttrib groups in very low-profile ways! 1830 - In the spring of 1830 a young Scottish lassie, Margaret Macdonald, came up with the novel notion of a catching up [rapture] of Spirit-filled "church" members before Antichrist's "trial" [tribulation] of non-Spirit-filled "church" members - the first instance I've found of clear "pretrib" teaching (which was part of a partial rapture scheme). In Sep. 1830 "The Morning Watch" (a journal produced by London preacher Edward Irving and his "Irvingite" followers, some of whom had visited Margaret a few weeks earlier) began repeating her original thoughts and even her wording but gave her no credit - the first plagiarism I've found in pretrib history. Darby was still defending posttrib in Dec. 1830. Pretrib promoters have long known the significance of her main point: a rapture of "church" members BEFORE the revealing of Antichrist. Which is why John Walvoord quoted nothing in her revelation, why Thomas Ice habitually skips over her main point but quotes lines BEFORE and AFTER it, and why Hal Lindsey muddies up her main point so he can (falsely) assert that she was NOT a pretribber! (Google "X-Raying Margaret" for info about her.) NOTE: The development of the 1800's is thoroughly documented in my book "The Rapture Plot." You'll learn that Darby wasn't original on any chief aspect of dispensationalism (but plagiarized the Irvingites); that pretrib was initially based on only OT and NT symbols and not clear Scripture; that the symbols included the Jewish feasts, the two witnesses, and the man child - symbols adopted by Darby during most of his career; that Darby's later reminiscences exaggerated his earliest pretrib development, and that today's defenders such as Thomas Ice have further overstated what Darby overstated; that Irvingism didn't need later reminiscences to "clarify" its own early pretrib development; that ancient hymns and even the

Report Abuse

Steve

March 30, 2009  11:15pm

I think Spencer's assessments are a bit too hasty. My primary issue with his conclusion is that he seems to define "evangelicalism" with church affiliation. But if we are to take David Bebbington's four marks of evangelicalism, church affiliation doesn't figure into the definition of evangelicalism. For more on this, see my blog: http://www.semaphoric.org/culture/rumors-of-my-death-have-been-greatly-exaggerated

Report Abuse

Ashley

March 20, 2009  8:41pm

toddh, I fully agree with your comment. Too many people are falling into the trap of individualism, by saying, all I need is Jesus and my Bible. If that were the case God would have stopped at Adam, but He didn't he gave Adam Eve. This is also one of my reasons for moving into the Catholic church from the evangelical church. You are correct that while uncomfortable, because changed is not always comfortable, it is a good shift and a very much needed shift.

Report Abuse

Scott

March 18, 2009  1:18pm

I think if you look at what's happened in Europe, you'll see the future of American Christianity. Our faith is dying in europe and already is dead in some places. Many people over there look at Americans as religious nuts. They say things like "you don't need God/Jesus/Religion to have a just society" and they point to models like Sweden, where Christianity is all but dead and the people enjoy a high level of cradle to grave care (not to mention avoiding wars and terror). In America, a Christian nation, we have 44 million without health insurance, violence and incarceration rates that are ridiculous. People look around them and say, why do I need Jesus? Look at his followers: they're judgmental, mean, hypocritical and often thieves. We don't want what they're selling. I think the propositional approach to spreading the Gospel has failed. I think only the loving, stalwart approach, leavened with kindness and humility is the only hope for western Christianity, much less evangelicalism.

Report Abuse

Kevin

March 18, 2009  11:03am

I think that evangelicalism's doctrinal minimalism (i.e. insistence on only the basic, non-negotiable doctrines) while (somewhat) consistent with its epistemology also dovetails rather well with society's prevailing relativism. As such it seems to have become anchorless and rudderless, which is why one of the distinguishing traits of evangelicalism is its addiction to fads and trends. We see how far things have gone when theological debate is not about freewill vs. predestination but about whether God knows the future. The tail of culture has been wagging this dog for some time now. I sense a coming evangelical split. Some will retreat back into fundamentalism with its cultural isolation and avoidance of complexity. Some are already following the path of liberal Protestantism but follow at a distance. Some, as Spencer notes, move toward Catholicism or Orthodoxy. The Church preceded evangelicalism and will outlast it.

Report Abuse

Duncan

March 18, 2009  10:35am

If 'Evangelicalism' is a political movement focused on social and political issues then it is good that its dominance is coming to an end. If, however, it is a strand of the Christian Church that takes seriously the imperative to proclaim the Lordship of Christ over all creation, then it's demise is a tragedy. Sadly, what society sees as the dominant 'Christian' image is neo-conservatives at prayer: with a whole range of beliefs about economics, military defense, foreign policy, tax policy, etc, which have no origin in Holy Scripture. If this is terminally ill, then bring it on.

Report Abuse

Basil

March 18, 2009  9:58am

Perhaps there are too many sooth sayers and sibyls out there. Spencers predictions are guesses at best based on present circumstances. But if I may have my say my best guess is that the movement will divide itself to death. It will no longer have a center and it will have over accommodated itself to secular culture and loose a sense of the sacred.

Report Abuse

homebuilding

March 17, 2009  10:18pm

Are we in the world and not of the world? I think not, especially at CT online. Lots of coverage of mainstream concerns–most recently, depression and abuse in our homes–let's all go run off to a secular psychologist and worship at the altar of the DSM IV! Depression and abuse are real, but it won't help to completely leave out that New Testament part about the community of believers.....and even secular psych research says that participation in activities with others is of great help. So long as most men are suspected of abuse, we won't be coming back to church in the numbers that you might wish. So long as all discouragement is upgraded to depression, and drugs and clinical "sicko-therapy" are the only answer–many will note your dependence on totally non spiritual answers.

Report Abuse