Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Evangelical Collapse?

Michael Spencer at The Christian Science Monitor lays out the reasons for The Coming Evangelical Collapse. Brief and worth a look. My thanks to Duane J. Oldsen for drawing this to my attention.

As a former Pentecostal turned Roman Catholic, this issue resonates with me from both sides. Spencer is probably right in forecasting difficult times ahead for evangelicalism, but the reasons he gives for this seem a little scrambled. It is not the attachment to conservative social goals which threaten the movement, for conservatism is quite healthy and will only increase as the material situation worsens in the years to come. Far more fatal to evengelicalism is its weddedness to the Prosperity Gospel, which will seem increasingly shallow (not to mention unattainable for most) in the face of widespread social unrest.

Spencer is certainly right, though, in condemning the lack of doctrinal rigor and basic Christian formation among the generic Protestant denominations. He sees this as a boon for orthodoxy, and again he is right. There is no doubt in my mind that hordes of the newly downtrodden, looking for an authentic Christian experience, will soon make the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Episcopalian churches rather popular places to be; but once more, his reasoning seems a little screwy. He first bemoans that people are abandoning evangelicalism because it's too socially conservative, and then he announces that this will benefit the catholic churches....who are supposed to be less conservative?! I can only conclude that this man doesn't understand what orthodoxy really means, nor the social forces driving people to embrace it.

The "pragmatic, therapeutic" megachurches will be the first victims of the turning tide, not the exceptions to it. The newly faithful congregants at the orthodox churches--hardboiled and distinctly intolerant of BS--will demand that the priests look and act like priests, that the sacraments be respected, and that the Gospel be proclaimed without embarrassment. The future will belong to orthodoxy as the prevailing cultural attitude becomes more conservative, not less.

Spencer again reaches the correct conclusion in describing what will be left. Pentecostalism is perhaps the only serious alternative to the sacramental/liturgical system of apostolic Christianity, as it retains Trinitarian baptism and a pronounced emphasis on the Cross; however, its premillenial dispensationalism is a stumbling block to determined Scriptural scholarship.

Of course, I am biased in favor of a Roman Catholic future. But I think that, in the last analysis, this is more than just a bias: it is a prophetic hope.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. REPLY:

    Mary, please enable access to your profile if you'd like to comment on my blog. God bless.

  3. I was led here by your thoughtful and compassionate comment on "O" on the Belmont Club. I am becoming Roman Catholic this Lententide from the opposite direction as yourself: Episcopalian. It boggles my mind to imagine someone from an evangelical background transferring to an episcopapalian church to find more theological orthodoxy.

    My parish was (is) a beautiful place, but the national church leadership and the archbishop and the sudden support for "pro-choice". . . Further, I have to admit that the Episcopal Church USA sometimes just seems to be the spiritual home for ultra-liberal politics. Good for them, but I got extremely tired of biting my tounge. So the ECUSA loses another cradle Episcopalian. If you go to any of their list-serves, you'll find their basic attitude is "don't let the door hit you on your way out!"

    I have never been able to see the appeal of the Evangelical churches: always thought that they were an appeal to simplification, and where enthusiasm trumped "the still small voice".

    I think the Catholic church is the organization that will be able to withstand the attacks coming from the last gasp of the 'sixties generation and their students, and show the country that the life of the spirit is what will carry us into a positive future.

  4. It boggles my mind to imagine someone from an evangelical background transferring to an episcopapalian church to find more theological orthodoxy.

    Hello weswinger, thanks for visiting!

    Sorry, I should clarify the point of contention. True, the Episcopalian Church is a pale reflection of what orthodoxy is supposed to be; still, it seems to attract the attention of certain evangelicals who are looking for a more "traditional" church experience, but who are too prejudiced against Roman Catholicism to consider coming all the way home to Rome. Such people probably have only an incomplete faith formation themselves, and therefore likely do not understand such things as the sacraments, the ministerial priesthood, apostolic succession, and so forth. Hopefully they will gain such understanding with time. Also, there is the possibility that they realize that the Episcopalian Church has gone liberal, but they just assume that all denominations have gone equally liberal in modern times, so they figure "What's the difference. At least it still looks orthodox."

    I didn't mean to imply that the EC is a good example of what Christianity should be. But from watching many episodes of The Journey Home on EWTN, it seems like many evangelicals feel the need to make a stopover there before converting to Catholicism. I call it "having lunch at the marina before crossing the Tiber." Even the accomplished theologian Dr. Stanley Hauerwas is doing something similar, from what I gather.

    In the meantime, welcome to the Catholic Church! I look foreward to hearing your thoughts/comments anytime.

  5. Matt,
    Nice blog. I've enjoyed your comments at Reilly's blog and thought you'd make an interesting blogger yourself. I found your link in a response at Wretchard's place. Interesting that I see a some of the same people in a small group of blogs.

    Anyhow, I'm also a recent (last year) convert to Roman Catholicism. I was raised deeply emersed in Seventh Day Adventism, left all forms of church and worship other than the worship of materialism and hedonism for about 20 years. When my spirit began to awaken again after 9/11, my wife (also a lapsed protestant) and I began looking for a new Christian church home. A return to SDA was out of the question and Roman Catholic or other Orthodox options were never really considered, so we tried a small Methodist church, then a very large and growing PCA affiliated mega/rich church but none filled what we were looking for. During this period most of my reading happened to be Catholic authors and we had moved and several of our knew friends were active Roman Catholics so we gave their church a try. I had totally moved past my anti-Catholic indoctrination and was ready to commit, but my wife took a bit more time. Within a year of attending as guests we committed to the RCIA process.

    I agree with your conclusions as it closely matches our experience. There is an unfortunate strong current of anti-Catholic bias among protestants that will likely prevent many of them from seeing truth and causing them to compromise with a derivative such as Lutheran. BTW, we also tried a Lutheran church and were totally turned off. I'm not sure if it was so much Lutheranism or perhaps our reaction to the particular church that we attended. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit guiding us, but we both left that experience with the same reaction that this was not what we wanted/needed.

    I one of those hard boiled new convert's you mention. I'm also very interested in the Latin Mass and would love to experience it and am a strong defender of all the sacrements and magisterium. Compared to the Seventh Day Adventists, the Catholic church is so rich and real and there's so much more emotional, spiritual and intellectual depth to the Church and it's various saints and authors.

    If the scenario of a wave of new protestant converts to Catholic/Orthodox holds true, perhaps this will create a vital spark of energy that would benefit the Church. One possible consequence of Vatican II that I find interesting is that some of the liturgical and cultural changes might have been just what the Church needed to prepare her to be more receptive to protestant converts. VII stressed the need for Catholics to become more literate in Bible study, more evangelical and inviting and although there is much criticism about the liturgical changes, they are probably much less jarring to a protestant then the Latin and orientation of the former...as much as I'd like to experience it now. Perhaps it was the moving of the Holy Spirit to direct those changes to prepare Christ's bride for the eventual return of His wondering flock.

  6. Hello Phil G,

    Sorry about taking an extra day to respond, and I thank you for your kind words. I had a bit of a system crash last night. Figures--as soon as I start a blog.

    I agree with your description of the social role that the Catholic Church will play in the coming years, especially in light of the changes wrought by Vatican II. One of my Lenten exercises this year has been to read the documents of the council, upon which I shall comment on the blog as time goes by. (Hint: My first impression of the council is that it was a great conservative undertaking which not only defined and clarified the kerygma, but prepared the Church for unprecedented worldwide mission work.)

    By the way guys, the Denver Chesterton Society (of which I am a member) will be meeting on Monday, March 24th, to discuss Manalive. Watch this space next week for a review of that book, and also for a short treatise on Babel, a primer on Oswald Spengler, and hopefully a few other odds and ends.

    Thanks for visiting!