The coming Evangelical collapse?
The blog “Dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness” by “Internet Monk” has an interesting series of three articles on the future of Christianity, focusing on the prediction of an Evangelical collapse.Hat-tip to Cobus of MyContemplations for the links.
You may find the articles here:
I think Internet Monk is thinking mainly of North America, and I have little firsthand experience of the Christian scene there, but from what I’ve gathered from various sources, I think his prediction in the first part is pretty accurate. It’s an extrapolation of what is already happening.
Outside North America, things are somewhat different.
In Britain, for example, Evangelicals have not generally aligned themselves with right-wing politics, whereas many American Evangelicals seem to have done so, self-consciously and deliberately, with only a minority bucking the trend.
Another problem, especially in the second and third parts, is that Internet Monk appears to conflate Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Calvinism and Pentecostalism under the general label of “Evangelical”.
Perhaps there has been a historical trend for these to amalgamate, especially in North America, but in the past they often seemed to be quite distinct and were often at loggerheads with one another. And if they have tended to amalgamate, has it been under the general heading of the “religious right”. rather than any distinctive Christian doctrine? Are they now all Premillennial Dispensationalists, for example? Has that particular eschatology become standard among American Evangelicals, so that it can be said to be a doctrinal distinctive?
One reason that this interests me is that a couple of years ago I embarked on a research project to discover what had happened to the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa.
The project got bogged down because it has proved very difficult to find anyone willing to talk about it. In the 1970s the charismatic renewal movement was quite strong and influential among Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics (all traditionally non-Pentecostal bodies). I’m not sure whether it affected Methodists, Congregationalists and Lutherans because I’ve found no one from those denominations willing to talk about it. A few Anglicans were willing to talk, but not enough to form a representative sample.
But from what I have gathered so far I get the impression that the charismatic renewal movement was strong in in the South Africa in the 1970s, and began to disintegrate in the 1980s.
Among the reasons for its disintegration are factors mentioned or implied in Itnernet Monk’s articles.
One was the rise of the Prosperity Gospel teaching, another was the rise of the Religious Right in North America and a third was the rise of neopentecostal megachurches..
Since the charismatic movement was worldwide, South African groups arranged conferences, national, regional and local, which often had speakers from other countries, including North America. Video and audio tapes from these speakers were widely distributed, as were the books they wrote. People like Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, Michael Harper, Tom Smail, Terry Virgo, Don Bashham, Francis McNutt and many others became household names in South African charismatic circles.
In the 1980s the contradictory messages emanating from these sources began promoting division. The prosperity gospel and religious right messages emanating from North America became stronger. In South Africa those who believed them left their original denominations and joined neopentecostal megachurches that promoted them. And those who did not believe them often became disillusioned with the charismatic renewal movement, and suffered from “charismatic burnout”.
Those who were against it all along have written the charismatic renwal movement out of the church history of the 1970s and 1980s as if it had never existed, or have interpreted it in terms of later developments, and so distorted it.
Developments in American “Evangelicalism” have had effects in South Africa that people in North America have hardly imagined, and the same may apply to other places as well.
The Internet Monk also predicts that some post-evangelicals will drift to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, leading to the “evangelicalisation” of these bodies. Again, at least among the Orthodox, this is happening, in two ways, one good, another not so good.
Evangelicals who have become Orthodox are often in a better position to explain Orthodoxy to Evangelicals, and Evangelicalism to the Orthodox. But some evangelical converts to Orthodoxy tend to become “superOrthodox”, with an aggressive in-your-face attitude both to their fellow-Orthodox and their former friends who have remained in the Evangelical camp.
I think Internet Monk has also underestimated the growth of Orthodoxy in Russia and other Eastern European countries, which, while it has not yet reached its pre-Bolshevik proportions, is at least halfway there. Russia has the largest Orthodox population in the world, and with a new patriarch who has travelled widely, is likely to become increasingly influential in world Orthodoxy.
So even though Internet Monk’s analysis is mainly confined to North America, I’d be interested to know what others think of this.
Do people in North America think the analysis is accurate?
And what do those in other places think that the effect of American “Evangelicalism” has been in their part of the world, and how will its collapse affect them — if, of course, the predicted collapse comes to pass?