What will be left after the evangelical collapse?
a. An evangelicalism far from its historical and doctrinal core. Expect evangelicalism as a whole to look more and more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. The determination to follow in the methodological steps of numerically successful churches will be greater than ever. The result will be, in the main, a departure from doctrine to more and more emphasis on relevance, motivation and personal success….with the result being churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.
For some time, we’ve been at a point that the decision to visit a particular evangelical church contained a fairly high risk of not hearing the Biblical Gospel. That experience will be multiplied and expanded in the years to come. Core beliefs will become less and less normative and necessary in evangelicalism.
b. An evangelicalized Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Two of the beneficiaries of the coming evangelical collapse will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been steadily entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more media and publishing efforts aimed at the “conversion” of evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox ways of being Christian.
A result of this trend will be the increasing “evangelicalization” of these churches. This should yield interesting results, particularly in the Orthodox church with its ethnic heritage and with the tensions and diversities in Catholicism that most converts never see during the conversion process. I expect the reviews of the influence of evangelicalism in these communions to be decidedly mixed.
c. A small portion of evangelicalism will continue down the path of theological re-construction and recovery. Whether they be post-evangelicals working for a reinvigoration of evangelicalism along the lines of historic “Mere Christianity,” or theologically assertive young reformed pastors looking toward a second reformation, a small, but active and vocal portion of evangelicalism will work hard to rescue the evangelical movement from its demise by way of theological renewal.
This is an attractive, innovative and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches. But I do believe many evangelical churches and schools will benefit from this segment of evangelicalism, and I believe it will contribute far beyond its size to the cause of world missions.
d. I believe the emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision. I expect to continue hearing emerging leaders, seeing emerging conferences and receiving emerging books. I don’t believe this movement, however, is going to have much influence at all within future evangelicalism. What we’ve seen this year with Tony Jones seems to me to be indicative of the direction of the emerging church.
e. Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear; they will exist only as a dying form of church. The Southern Baptist Convention will experience dramatic losses in the numbers of churches in the next 25 years. By 2050, the SBC will have half the number of churches it has today. (Who know how many members it will report.) The SBC will become “exhibit A” for the problems of evangelicalism, with fragmentation appearing everywhere and a loss of coherence on many fronts.
The fundamentalist ghetto has been breaking down in my own lifetime, and I expect this will continue. The “Jerry Falwell-Jerry Vines” type of fundamentalist Baptist will become a museum piece by the middle of the century.
f. Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Within that community, the battle for the future of evangelicalism will be fought by those who must decide whether their tradition will sink into the quicksand of heresy, relativism and confusion, or whether Charismatic-Pentecostalism can experience a reformation and renewal around Biblical authority, responsible leadership and a re-emergence of orthodoxy..
I see signs of life on all those fronts, but the key issue of leadership and the preparation of leaders leaves me with little hope that Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity can put its house in order. The dynamics of leadership within this tradition have conspired to bring the worst kinds of leaders to the forefront.
The stakes in Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity are very high. It has become a worldwide missions phenomenon, and it has become a community carrying the most virulent and destructive heresies and errors in evangelicalism. The next 15-25 years will be crucial for this community. I am hopeful, but not optimistic. I see and hear little from this community’s younger leadership that indicates there is anything close to a real recognition of the problems they face.
g. A hope for all of evangelicalism is a “rescue mission” from the world Christian community. If all of evangelicalism could see the kind of renewal that has happened in conservative Anglicanism through the Anglican Mission in America and other mission efforts, much good would be done. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. Will they come? Will they be able to bring to our culture a more vital form of Christianity? I do not know, but I hope and pray that such an effort happens and succeeds.
At present, most of evangelicalism is not prepared to accept pastors and leadership from outside our culture. Yet there can be little doubt that within our western culture there is very little evidence of an evangelicalism that can diagnose and repair itself.
h. A vast number of parachurch ministries are going to become far less influential, and many will vanish. The same will likely be true from everything from Christian media to publishing. This will throw what remains of evangelicalism back on the local church, and that moves us to my last post, a consideration of whether this collapse is a good or bad thing.
i. I believe that the missionary sending agencies of evangelicalism will survive the coming collapse, but will be greatly weakened by significant decreases in the giving base. It is time for mission strategies among evangelicals to change, and it is long past time for westerners to use their resources to strengthen work within a nation and not to just send Americans to the mission fields.
Next: Is all of this a good or a bad thing?
ARTICLE TO BE CONTINUED……….