A depressingly pessimistic article by Michael Spencer appeared in the March 10, 2009 of the Christian Science Monitor that wraps many of the perceived problems with Evangelicalism into a neat little package of doom and gloom. The subtitle makes the article's subject matter pretty plain: "An anti-Christian chapter in Western history is about to begin. But out of the ruins, a new vitality and integrity will rise." Apparently not one to waste time with endless introductory material, the author makes his main point crystal clear in the article's first paragraph:
A dire prediction indeed, but is this author correct? Although he brings up many of the same points that we have been discussing on this site for the last few weeks, I tend to think that he overstates his conclusion. I recommend that all readers take a few minutes to read this article because it perfectly illustrates the defeatist mindset of modern Christianity. Spencer's article—although factually accurate for the most part about the various difficulties and challenges facing the Evangelical Church today—actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If all Christians took his article seriously, we would quickly begin to see the very things that he predicts begin to happen. In fact, one only needs to look back through history to find confirmation of what Spencer is saying. When the Church is weak and ineffective in a society, the society itself quickly becomes weak and ineffective. Spencer isn't really making predictions, he is merely noting trends that will—if not altered by the culture-transforming power of the Gospel—lead to what he calls "a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century." Obviously this is true. But it is true in the same way that not using soap in your dishwasher will result in unclean dishes. If you remove the cleansing agent from a society, the society will get dirty. This is not rocket science.
I think it is quite revealing that Spencer's bio at the end of the article tells us that he is "a writer and communicator living and working in a Christian community in Kentucky." While I'm not exactly sure what this means, I have come to believe that those within an organization are often the least suited to measure the organization's effectiveness. In other words, it is quite easy from an internal position to criticize and condemn an organization for what it is doing wrong or improperly. It is a much more difficult thing, from an internal view, to step back and analyze what the organization is doing right. This is why most companies, whatever their business is, hire or use outside consultants or public feedback to aid them in their decision-making.
For example, if a man makes a widget in a factory for fifteen years of his life, he knows the widget intimately. He knows that it is not quite a square, because it is actually longer than it is tall. He knows the limitations and the abilities of the widget. He probably even knows ways to improve the widget, but nobody bothers asking him for his opinion. Why is this? Because he is not the intended market. The widget may be revolutionizing the world outside the factory, but the man can only see the limitations of the widget. While the rest of the world is using his widget to great effect and joy, the man is bothered every day by the fact that the widget is three inches longer than it is tall. Familiarity often breeds contempt.
This concept is most readily seen in Spencer's seven reasons why he believes this "evangelical collapse" is going to happen. We will deal with these reasons in more detail in future articles, but when you read them, make sure that you keep your internal/external monitor running at high speed. Spencer's reasons are nothing new, in fact these same reasons have been used for more than 100 years to predict either an end—or a dramatic restructuring—of the Evangelical Church. The names and dates have changed, but the gloomy predictions of impending doom remain...and so does the Evangelical Church. It is certainly true that Evangelicalism needs to re-focus its efforts and priorities, but this has always been the case. Being in the world, but not of it, requires constant calibration of the brain and heart; or as Paul says "renewing of the mind" (Romans 12:2).
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