"We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith," blogger Michael Spencer writes.
A relatively recent Internet post by Michael Spencer, a.k.a. The Internet Monk, predicted that evangelicalism will collapse within 10 years. The post was condensed and published in the Christian Science Monitor and has stirred up a brief flurry of responses ranging from countless blogs to an editorial in Christianity Today.
Spencer, a fervent Southern Baptist and fan of Calvinism who is not afraid to call a spade what it is, has taken a lot of heat for his posts, which began by blaming the coming "collapse" on evangelicalism's overt identification with the political right. By selling its soul to political conservatism, evangelicalism will be seen as a threat to cultural progress, he suggests, and will collapse because it has insufficient roots in genuine faith: "We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith" is the way he put it.
Spencer predicts that the fall of evangelicals will be precipitous:
"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.
"Millions of evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close."
Spencer, a former SBC youth minister and pastor who is now primarily an Internet entrepreneur and something of a self-promoter, makes no claim to be a prophet. Some, however, have deemed him one, while others have assailed his views.
Spencer has clearly seen the spiritual hollowness that pervades much of evangelicalism, and I believe he is correct that elements of the movement will fade in influence as years go by. The idea that evangelicalism will collapse within 10 years, however, appears clearly overstated. Methinks the monk has underestimated the power of inertia.
It's interesting that Spencer describes himself as "a postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality," but his analysis says little or nothing about the challenge of postmodernism. He blames youth leaders and churches for turning out young people who have little commitment to the Bible, but doesn't grapple much with the pervasive postmodernist mindset that finds no authority more persuasive than one's own opinion.
I don't think evangelicalism is about to collapse, but I think it will be healthier when more of its leaders get off the fundamentalist-inerrantist bandwagon that turns the Bible into a sociopolitical hammer and help people learn to appreciate the scriptures as an often-ambiguous and multi-layered story whose ultimate focal point is the "Jesus-shaped spirituality" that we would all be wise to seek.
Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.