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March 13, 2009

’The coming evangelical collapse’

This dire prediction has been making the rounds for a few days now, in two slightly different forms (here's the original blog post). It keeps popping up in e-mails, Facebook pages, and pretty much everywhere else I look. What do you think of it? A likely event, or a fate that's preventable?

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Jason Taylor

That sounds suspiciously like wishful thinking.

Ben W

I'm also skeptical, although I agree with some of the points he raised, such as #2.


We need a new St. Patrick and a new St. Columbanus. Maybe we should shut down our church buildings and establish missions in the wildest, most dangerous places on Earth. Then, perhaps, from among us someone will arise who will again save civilization.


Arrgh, I wrote a comment and it got eaten.

LeeQuod, have you much familiarity with New Monasticism? Some people think by redefining communal living we can save Christian discipleship: http://www.newmonasticism.org/index.php

As for the "worst case scenario" for Evangelical Christianity... it is exactly that. A worst case scenario. There are a lot of ways we can change our navigation before we crash into a mountain. Besides which, many of the predictions he outlines basically come from the same idea; the Evangelical PR is so bad it will kill the movement. A new generation is rising, that has an opportunity to change the face of the movement, without necessarily watering down or destroying the message. If the next generation of leaders are brave and will tackle the problems with courage, humility, and innovation, we may see many of these surface problems vanish like smoke, meaning a chance to work on other serious issues.


Thank you, Kari - I hadn't heard of that movement but I'm familiar with similar ones.

I was hoping someone would pounce on me by pointing out that St. Patrick (and therefore St. Columbanus, and therefore that entire movement) arose by a move of God on the heart of one man *who wasn't seeking to do what God asked him to do*. In fact, Patrick required some persuasion to go back among those wild pagan Irishmen. And he not only got no support from churches, but got opposition - which under Columbanus became something of a tradition, per Stephen Reed's podcast interview with T.M. Moore; if you weren't irritating a bishop, you weren't doing it right.

Seems to me evangelicalism arose from the ashes of fundamentalism. And it would appear that fundamentalism still smoulders, per the comments of some Pointificators. So maybe evangelicalism will continue in some form for many years, even as God prepares a replacement from without - or a revival from within.


Kari has a valid point -- it IS a worst case scenario. The threads woven into the scenario have validity although they could be woven into a different tapestry. My problem with these kinds of scenarios is I can do nothing about them. There are forces over which I have no control. What I can do is work in the place where I am planted. I, working with others of like mind, can start the process where our community is transformed into a "light in the darkness." If each of us in our "planted places" starts the process, we can see a different scenario emerge. Personally, I know of several places where the process of community transformation is underway.


Coming to The Point lately has been nice... it's been a reminder to work on the literary paper about St. Patrick's biography by Muirchu I'm presenting in two weeks.

LeeQuod, Patrick's home church was not only contentious in offering support -- they stood passively by while his followers were being kidnapped and murdered!

Before we can have a new Patrick, or a new Columbanus, or even a new Brigid, we will have to return to a belief that God will directly intervene in our lives on our behalf for His glory. Patrick followed dreams from God that lead him both from and back to Ireland -- I can't think of many American Christians who would be brave enough to risk their lives because of a message so "subtle" or "ambiguous". It seems a lot of Christians are waiting to have their messages from God handed to them from a pulpit or another "authority" figure, to the point where we exclude other possible outlets for God to speak to us*.

*I'm not saying that when I dream of waffles God is sending me a message to buy a Waffle House. But given the clear Biblical precedence for God-given dreams and miraculous messages, it dismays me how many Christians would dismiss out of hand the mere possibility God would talk in such a way in the modern world.

Rolley Haggard


Wonder what happened to Kari's missing comment???

I’ve read about these spooky kinds of things. The Bermuda Triangle, The Three-sided Rectangle, The Lee Quadrangle, The Booberry Bojangle, The Star-Spangled Fandango, The Mongolian Monkey-Mangled Mud Mango, The Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bangle, and a bootin bootin be bop de boww!

Hey, wha? What’s that noise? Sounds like, sounds like a giant vacuum cleaner. But I see neither David Oreck nor Ross Perot, so what….? I better check this out….

Testing. Testing.

Testing to see if any more comments get sucked down that virtual black hole.

Testing. Testing. Tes





















Evangelicalism did not arise from the ashes of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism wasn't dead, it was self-isolated. Evangelicalism in its modern form was a movement led by Carl Henry, Harold O. J. Brown and Francis Schaeffer, which believed exactly the same things as the fundamentalists (the fundamentals being the articles of the Apostle's Creed), but believed in cultural engagement (not assimilation) rather than ghettoization.

Dr. Schaeffer's last book, _The Great Evangelical Disaster_, presciently described the present state of affairs. In it he said that while 'fundamentalism' had become an ugly word - I would say that today it is a hate word like the 'n' word, he would rather be called a fundamentalist than be confused with those who were abandoning the authority and truth of Scripture - including the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

He used an analogy of a snowpack on a mountain ridge that melted into two separate drainage networks. It is unified, like evangelicalism, but in the end, it will end up in two very different places - apostasy or fidelity to Christ. Today, (as of 1998, though this was not published until recently) even L'Abri has moved to the other side of the snowpack from Dr. Schaeffer.

What is happening is that those who have abandoned in practice, the authority of Scripture (and it is possible to give that lip service without really meaning it, Dr. Schaeffer describes that as well in the same book) are moving further and further away from that continental divide.

Kari, I think that perhaps first we need to obey what God has already told us in Scripture. Before we are likely to receive new private revelation, tt would be best if we obeyed His public revelation.

Will we be God-fearers or man-pleasers?


labrialumn wrote: "Evangelicalism did not arise from the ashes of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism wasn't dead, it was self-isolated."

OK, I beg in all seriousness to be educated on this point: what is the difference, for a Christian group, between isolation and death? Seems to me (having myself read Dr. Schaeffer's fine book) that fundamentalism had the problem of growing primarily via the nursery rather than via adult conversions. This explains the concern over losing our youth to the culture; without them, we'll shrink (since we're not reaching out).

And I'm currently of the opinion that Patrick and Columbanus and the rest "engaged the culture" by aggressively (not defensively) offering a stark contrast to it, and being extremely trusting of God to show the culture that His way was right. Had Patrick failed in some of his confrontations, he'd have been unhesitatingly beheaded, and that would be that. (Kari, my hesitation about "monasticism" is that in our culture it conveys the idea of withdrawing from society in a fortress, rather than (as with Columbanus and others) setting up a hut in the middle of hostile territory and basically daring your enemy to engage you.)

Ben W

L'abrialumn, I'm not sure that evangelicalism requires a belief in complete biblical inerrancy.. I'd consider myself evangelical (although left-leaning), and my beliefs are more in line with biblical infallibility than biblical inerrancy.


I was defining what evangelicalism is, not what it is not. Words mean things, you can't just change them to suit what you want to be thought of as. Moderate protestant liberalism has been around for a hundred years. I'm curious why you are ashamed of it?

Ben W

Hehehe, I'm not ashamed of it in the slightest. I'm just pointing out that the commonly used definition of evangelicalism includes a belief in biblical authority, not inerrancy.

Daniel Knight

Ben W:
I'm curious as to how the Bible could be "infallible" ("incapable of making mistakes or being wrong") without being "inerrant" ("incapable of being wrong"; "without error")?
IF the Bible is potentially "errant" (with error) then it is not "infallible".

Perhaps you are thinking that the modern translations may be errant-prone v. the original manuscripts, but that the modern translations' message remains "infallible".

But again I would submit that the fallacy remains: a document that is potential errant, cannot be "infallible".

Ben W

"Biblical inerrancy" refers to errors in any area, whereas "infallibility" refers to only spiritual/theological areas and allows minor errors in geography, history, etc.
Often inerrancy is also tied with biblical literalism.


how about the phrase regarding the BIBLE: (I quote from memory) inerrant in the original documents (re the Bible).

Thru archaeology--and maybe better knowledge of the past---and even discovery of some new very old Bible fragments (some going back to not all that long since the originals were written don) some minor points have been corrected---or obscure meanings have been cleared up.
We don't hold the original Bible scrolls in our hands---but careful scholarship on past cultures, archaelogy, research is helping us get rid of some possible transmission or interpretation erros.


Inerrancy and infallability of the Bible mean the same things. However, after the Lausane Covenant, false brothers slipped in to deceive, having found that they could twist the word 'infallible' to mean 'fallible', so it became necessary to coin the term inerrancy and define it at the Council of Chicago.

This parallels the need of the patristic Church to have to more closely define the nature of the Blessed Trinity and of Christ every so often.

As to 'commonly used' definition of evangelical, sez who? It is simply a false statement to say that 'evangelical' covers those who disbelieve God's written word.

Ben W

Hmm. We seem to be stuck on disagreeing on the definitions of 'inerrancy' and 'infallibility' - but I don't have any information on their historical uses pre-70s, so I concede the point. The people I know would say I believe in "infallibility", while others might call it "limited inerrancy". But not biblical literalism.. I can't believe in that, or my head would explode.

Out of curiosity, how would you *disprove* strict inerrancy or literalism? Or should the strict inerrancy of the Bible be accepted, no matter what happens?

Jason Taylor

Ben, it is both logically and psychologically impossible not to "accept something whatever happens."

Steve Rempe

"Limited inerrancy" is now my favorite oxymoron. Thanks, Ben!

Ben W

Well of course you have to accept *something*, but which something you accept is up to you. Hmm.. maybe "affirmed" would have been a better word.


Ben, I guess you have to take that up with the Author. How much do you trust Him?

Ben W

Eh, I trust Him just fine, I just don't trust us to (a) hear Him perfectly, and/or (b) understand what He's trying to accomplish and how.

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