Archive for March 10th, 2009
According to an article by Michael Spencer, a survey by Barry Kosmin, and my own observations of our society at large as well as my personal experience while pastoring a small church in Fort Worth for 15 years, the future of Evangelicalism and Christianity in general in America is not very bright. We have been in a downgrade for at least 3 generations as modernism has drained the Church of its vitality. Compromising with the culture and the loss of sound doctrine has made much of the church useless and the numbers are showing it.
In the survey linked below and discussed by Dr. Mohler below, we have seen an increase of the non-religious in America from 8% to 15% of the population since 1990. And this doesn’t even account for the religious but secular crowd which is likely at least half of the Church in America. While the survey shows that we Baptists have grown, we have lost ground as a percentage of the population. The non-religious is now the third largest group behind Catholics, the largest single group, and the Baptists.
Is it any wonder, then, that we see the economic collapse as being caused by the moral failures of businessmen and politicians alike? They reflect the moral values of our irreligious society.
The Spencer article in the CS Monitor and at internetmonk, is interesting, but I disagree with him in some points. I think he is correct that in the next ten years there will be a big collapse of the mega churches and ministries as the older generation dies off thathas funded the Evangelical movement. In fact, with the current economic collapse and the impending bankruptcy of Amerika, this collapse of the Evangelical movement may hit sooner. As people lose jobs, become fearful of the future, and become more cautious, they will tend to stop giving as much.
I disagree with Spencer about some of the causes for this collapse, such as his first point:
1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. 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.
The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.
The last two sentences in the above quote, I agree with, most of the Church is incapable of articulating the Gospel coherently and much of the Church does believe in a cause, or other things, more than in the Faith itself. But I think he is wrong to say that it was a mistake to identify with political conservatism. I am not sure what his alternatives would have been, but I am firmly convinced that the Gospel is inherently political, cultural and conservative in the sense that to follow Christ will necessarily mean we are pro-life, pro-family, pro-morals. It is not inconsistent with the Gospel to be involved in the political realm of the society in which we live. If anything, I would say the culture is going down the drain BECAUSE the Church was Too Silent for Too Long.
By saying this I do not mean that the Church’s primary task is political. Our primary tasks remain 3: Worship, make disciples, evangelize the world. But this means bringing the truths of Scripture into every part of our society. Praise God that Wilburforce was not silent in England or that those hearty believers who ran the underground railroad and cried out against the slave trade in America were not silent. It was the Black Church and a few white allies who, under Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership fought the injustices of our segregated society in the 1950’s – 60’s and changed America. It was the Church in Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s and early 90’s that brough freedom to the Eastern bloc countries. The Gospel is inherently political, why do you think the Chinese Communists are willing to have capitalism but not freedom of religion?
Spencer’s second point:
2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our 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. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.
I absolutely agree with him here. I would add that it is not just the young people who are ignorant of their faith. In the church I pastored, where the average age was over 70, there wasn’t 1 out of 10 adults who could clearly articulate their faith let alone carry on an intelligent conversation with a lost person. I know that sounds arrogant, mean even, but my 15 years of pastoring that church has convinced me of why America is in the shape it is in today. Faith has become an entirely personal matter, and in the public it is enough to simply live a moral lifestyle and then invite people to church. Make me vomit! Our young people are weak today because for the past 3 generations we have been weak.
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.
Here I think Spencer may be overly pessimistic. There is a revival going on in the Southern Baptist Convention with a rebirth of many churches that are awakening to the Gospel of God’s Sovereign Grace and our Calvinistic past. This includes a new, God centered worship, a rigorous discipleship with accountability and church discipline, and a Bible based evangelism that seeks to confront sinners with the reality of their sin and the wonder of God’s Amazing Grace. The church I am in now is a universe apart from where I was.
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. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.
Again, I absolutely concur with Spencer here. We have not taught our children to think, even in Christian schools. Our Christian Universities and Colleges especially seem to have compromised with the secular world. But again, maybe Spencer is too harsh. The rise of the homeschool movement is giving me lots of hope in this area. The dozens of homeschool families in my church are truly encouraging. With the impending collapse, I think we might see more homeschooling and more church schools rise up as government utterly fails.
5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.
Indeed, with the new budget and tax proposals by the Obamasky administration, charitable giving will decline. With lawsuits and State Laws bringing a showdown over homosexuality, I can see many ministries closing rather than being forced to hire homosexuals. Even the Catholic Hospitals are looking at either closing or going into a major civil disobedience mode over potential new Obamasky rules regarding forcing physicians and hospitals to provide abortions.
What about the future? Spencer thinks the a lot of Evangelicals will become even more pragmatic and therapeutic while many more will jump into Catholicism and Orthodoxy. He is the most optimistic about the growth of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, though that is problematic too. He seems to think the Emergent movement will merge with the liberal movement and vanish from the scene. There will be a small band of the faithful who will continue to work hard and be biblical yet innovative; their efforts will not be enough to spark a 2nd Reformation. Denominational organizations will tend to fade but “networks” will grow.
Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, “Christianity loves a crumbling empire.”
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.
We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture.
I think that we need to prepare for two things, two likelihoods. 1) I am really thinking that the Lord will return soon. The world situation, not just the demise of Evangelicals, is getting so bad that I think we are reaching the crisis point. But, Jesus may let the world blow itself up and descend into a long, slow Dark Age. (My aren’t I the optimist?) 2) Therefore, the Church needs to prepare for a long persecution, and a long time of watching the culture die. If we sufficiently recover the true Gospel, and persevere while suffering, years (centuries?) from now we may see another society that is characterized by the Christian world view much like the one that has now died.
And in support of the above stories, here is a story about a recent Barna Poll that shows less than 1%, that is less than one percent, of today’s young folks in the 18-23 age bracket have a Biblical Worldview.
The questions used in the survey were about some basic beliefs, and even the range of questions was not very deep.
A biblical worldview, as defined by the Barna study, is believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is completely accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.
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Just like Joe Biden said months ago in Seattle, in the first few months of the Obama Administration, there will be those who test him. The Chinese Navy did some testing over the weekend and the North Koreans are doing some testing now too. How will Pres. Obamasky respond?
You may remember that back in early 2001, before 9/11, the Chicoms tested the rookie President Bush by forcing down a Navy aircraft, a P-3 Orion, that was on patrol over the South China Sea.
This is the same area, generally speaking, where the incident with the USNS Impeccable occurred over the weekend. Pres. Bush’s response was calm and steady, using some extremely delicate diplomatic measures to get the crew home. It took about 11 days but they all made it home safely. Not so the Chicom pilot who rammed our aircraft- he failed to bailout and died in the South China Sea. We got our airplane back, in pieces.
The incident over this past weekend involved a USNavy Survey (spy) ship in international waters and 5, count em, 5 Chicom vessels. The Chinese Navy ships approached to within 25′ of our Impeccable and the civilian part of our crew turned on the fire hoses and gave the Chinese a shower. Other Chinese vessels stopped in front of the Impeccable and tried to force her to ram them, thus creating an even larger incident. Our skipper deftly avoided the vessels, then radioed the Chicoms and requested permission to leave the area, and it was granted.
All in all, it looks like the Navy handled the situation as well as could be expected. However, just as in 2001 with the P-3 incident, I believe we are letting the Chicoms off wayyy tooo easily here. When we ignore these kinds of incidents and play the nice diplomatic card, they interpret it as weakness. We ought to find one of their “observation ships” and harrass the heck out of them with some F-18 flybys at about 100′ and 500 mph.
Meanwhile, up the South China Sea a few hundred miles to the Korean peninsula, the crazy North Koreans are threatening war because we are conducting some joint military maneuvers with the South Koreans and the North is getting ready to fire off their new ICBM for a test and they don’t want us to shoot it down. They claim they will go to war if we interfere with their “satellite”.
I doubt the Obamasky Admin. will actually interfere, but I personally think shooting the missile down will send the right message.
We live in a dangerous world with NationState Thugs and wacko Islamofascist Terrorists. You cannot “play nice” with these killers.
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