A Coming Evangelical Collapse?

Over at Near Emmaus:

In the last week I have read three interesting blog posts that mention people exiling from evangelicalism (or Reformed thinking) that I have found interesting:

- Jason Stellman discusses his controversial departure from the Presbyterian Church of America to the Roman Catholic Church in “I Fought the Church, and the Church Won”–a guest post for the blog Called to Communion. He says that Catholicism was not alluring to him, but that he found it to be “the truth,” especially when he began to doubt the reformational language regarding Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. Remember, this is the man who lead the trial against Peter Leithart for the Pacific Northwest Presbytery because Leithart was suspected of teachings that were close to those of Rome.

- Roman Catholics are not alone in anticipating more people to flee evangelical and reformed community. The Orthodox Church is asking themselves if they are ready for the “coming evangelical collapse.” Kevin Allen provides a self-diagnosis for this communion in “Are We Ready for the Coming Evangelical Collapse?” He believes that the Orthodox will be “short-term beneficiaries, but that there are many hinderances to people joining their ranks as well.

- Peter Enns has written many blog posts providing an “in-house” critique of evangelicalism’s shrinking boarders warning that there are many who no longer feel at home in evangelicalism as it is self-defined currently. In “Outgrowing Evangelicalism: It’s Not Just for Scholars Anymore” he shows that it isn’t academics alone who are feeling marginalized within evangelical circles. Of course, the so-called “emerging church” has been saying this for sometime now. I think evangelicals seeking to realign and redefine evangelicalism may have a harder time than Roman Catholics and Orthodox because there has yet to “emerge” an alternative to evangelicalism than doesn’t have the feel of evangelicalism run amok with individualism or the type of church that seeks to be “ancient-future” in practice while being liberal-progressive Protestant in theology (something that may lack staying power).

Pentecostalism continues to expand globally and domestically (I think the Assemblies of God are one of the few larger denominations in this country that have seen growth over recent years). There remain many problems there as well. When the energy declines and the emotionalism dries many “thinkers” in Pentecostal ranks wonder what they are doing with their time. At least that was my experience.

Do you foresee a “coming evangelical collapse?” If so, where will evangelicals go? If not, what reforms do you think need to be made?

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About Fr Stephen Smuts
TAC Priest in South Africa.

11 Responses to A Coming Evangelical Collapse?

  1. John says:

    Evangelicals are also welcome in the TAc. ..

  2. Funny, I would like someone to ask the Reformed theologian Richard Muller this question! The thing that is killing “Evangelicalism”, are the so-called Evangelicals themselves! Of course these are really “emergents” for the most part. The whole church is quite simply under apostasy! One can think of Spurgeon’s thoughts as far back as the Baptist “down-grade”. Certainly the principle of the Reformation still applies, but one must understand that biblical-theological reality! AS Richard Muller has! And the “collapse” has been the culture itself, i.e. postmodernity.

    The Apostolic Church had no buildings or cathedrals, and that Church Catholic did quite well, though the Church has always been dealing with apostasy and simply the “apostates”! And least we forget, the Roman Catholic Church has had their share also! (Popes and anti-popes, etc.) What we really need are some Biblical Reformers again! To read and re-read Luther again! Now there was a real “Reformer”! Btw, I bet most so-called “evangelicals” have never even read Luther!

    And I would challenge Peter Enns’s theological construct anyday, its one thing to see the grave problems of any Historic Evangelicalism, quite another to seek to give pastoral and theological help, therein. Indeed where are the pastor-teachers?

  3. Trey Medley says:

    As someone who considers himself an evangelical, I think what may actually end up occurring is a redefining of what it means to be an evangelical (yet again). It won’t be exclusively reformed (in fact many evangelicals have already rejected that) and it will certainly begin to lose much of its political activism. I doubt there will be a collapse, but in a decade what will be evangelicalism will be much broader (and even less helpful as a descriptor) than what is often now termed evangelical.

  4. Again for me, as a conservative Anglican and certainly “Reformed” and Reformational, the so-called “Evangelical” moniker turns back to Luther’s “theologia crucis”, verses the “theologia gloriae”! Sadly however, many don’t even know this battle! And certainly the RCC has always been centred in the Theologia Gloriae!

    Btw, let me plug – and challenge the readers – to the German, Bernhard Lohse’s (1928-1997), book: Martin Luther’s Theology, Its Historical and Systematic Development, (Fortress Press edition, 1999 Augsburg Fortess). Simply one of the best Luther scholars of the 20th century!

  5. Justin K says:

    I’ll bite, even as one who rarely involves himself in stuff like this. Young Americans like to complain, and generally just hear themselves talk. I say this as a 30 year old American evangelical in a Master’s program (medical-related, not theology) who has frankly been amazed at the self-centered whining that gets a pass in our generation. I mention the Master’s program because I have to assume that if this is the case with my “well-educated upper middle-class” peers, then it probably stands as a fair generalization of the sort of people who take their time offering intro-evangelical critiques on their blogs or twitter-feeds (see earlier comment about liking to hear themselves talk). I mean let’s face it, general laborers probably don’t really care about this sort of thing, and, I would argue, neither do most real-world laypeople.

    I agree with a good bit of the critique of American evangelicalism (from inside and outside)…but I can’t seriously be the only one who is sick to death of this sort of thing, am I? I mean, if one feels the need to constantly critique their own tradition ad nauseam, then leave.

    As an example on the scholarly level, a few years ago I heard one of the scholars mentioned above, in front of a generally mainline protestant audience, poking fun at the “hicks” who didnt believe in women’s ordination…this in a lecture generally geared toward deconstructing a fundamentalist-type hermeneutic…and this man was from a conservative reformed background which values both of these very things….so seriously, why stay?

    I don’t think most American evangelicals can deal with the authority of the Catholic Church. Maybe the Orthodox in the short-term, but not the long.

    • @Justin: This kind of thing comes from the Near Emmaus Blog, and the like of the Neo-liberal Peter Enns! The question really should be who and what is Peter Enns, (theologically)? And why do we care to listen to his Neo-lib theology? He certainly knows nothing about the Orthodox (EO) or the RCC! And again, where is Luther/Calvin in all this? It really begs the whole Evangelical question, and perhaps borders on an “Emergent” theology, so-called. And in reality, classic Evangelical Theology, is really closer to both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, at least on the doctrine of Christology and the Trinity of God! And btw, classic Evangelicalism is always Reformational and Reformed!

  6. Mourad says:

    The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth (England) has just seen its new Bishop conseccrated and installed and, inter alia, the new bishop said this:-

    “Yet the ordination of a Bishop, as Successor of the Apostles, in communion of mind, will and heart with the Pope, as the chief Shepherd, Teacher and High Priest of the diocese entrusted to him, who, like the Master, must lay down his life for his flock, reminds us that human needs ever remain essentially the same:
    the need to love and to be loved,
    the need for a purpose and vocation in life,
    the need to belong to family and community,
    the need for mercy and forgiveness, for peace and justice, for freedom and happiness,
    and most profoundly, the need for immortality and for the Divine.

    All these fundamental desires, hard-wired into the human heart: theology expresses in the word ‘salvation,’and we profess that every child, woman and man on this planet can find that salvation.

    There is a Way – and it’s the Truth! It’s the true Way that leads to Life, real life, life to the full, a life that never ends. There is a Way, and it’s not a strategy, a philosophy or a package-deal. This Way has a Name, because it’s a Person, the only Person in human history who really did rise from the dead, a Person alive here and now: Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son Incarnate. He alone can save us. He alone can give us the salvation our spirits crave. He alone can reveal to us the Truth about God and about life, about happiness and humanism, about sexuality and family values, about how to bring to the world order, justice, reconciliation and peace.

    This message of Good News, and the civilisation of love it occasions, we Catholics must now communicate imaginatively, with confidence and clarity, together with our fellow Christians, and all people of faith and good will, to the people of England, this wonderful land, Mary’s Dowry.

    “We must offer this salvific message to a people, sorely in need of new hope and direction, disenfranchised by the desert of modern British politics, wearied by the cycle of work, shopping, entertainment, and betrayed by educational, legal, medical and social policy-makers who, in the relativistic world they’re creating, however well-intentioned, are sowing the seeds of a strangling counterculture of death.”

    I’m not qualified to express a view about “evangelicals” as churches or sects, but there is certainly a need formore and better directed Evangelism and I think the last paragraph quoted expalns why it is particularly needed in the so-called “developed” world.

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