Wednesday, March 11, 2009
This deterioration of the mainline Protestant world will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. And not a moment too soon, I might add.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today identify as Evangelicals. In the 20th century, Evangelicals flourished but they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. 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.
Why will this happen?
1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can’t articulate faith with any coherence. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.
2. Evangelicals have failed to pass on to young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community.
3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.
4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.
5. The money will dry up.