I have a growing concern for the plight of what is known as North American evangelicalism; my concern comes from the fact that I am a North American evangelical. I grew up as an evangelical, as a son of a Conservative Baptist pastor. I was born in 1974, so that makes me 41 years old, and in my life time I have seen a seismic shift. What I am starting to realize though is that this shift isn’t so much a matter of material reality, but instead a matter of perception. What I mean is that I have come to believe that the seedlings for implosion were already present and blossoming even back in my younger days within evangelicalism.
People who became “cult” leaders for evangelicals back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are now either no longer with us, or if they are they are caught up in the culture wars, making sure their mini-kingdoms continue to function at all costs, or are still trying to figure out how to be relevant to the broader culture; and they are also still caught up in the trap of conflating nationalism with the Gospel/Christianity.
Beyond all of this what has stood behind evangelicalism, theologically, is this modern turn to the subject, and/or rationalism. In other words, me and my Jesus, and a warm-hearted pietism has not served evangelicals well. There has been a psycholization of the Gospel wherein it is more about me than it is about Jesus; as a result much of evangelicalism has become swamped by a drive for having certain experiences, or getting warm and fuzzy feelings after singing worship songs in church.
There are other deep issues as well, but I don’t know, I just have this sense that evangelicalism has never really been what it has purported to be. It has let too many people down who I love, and hasn’t led folks into the deeper waters of the Gospel; it has stunted people’s growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ rather than helped to propel it!
Within evangelical churches I know for a fact that there are many thirsty people, but they don’t know where to turn. They don’t realize what big reality they are actually apart of as the body of Christ. They don’t realize the resources Jesus has provided for them in the heritage of the tradition of the church. And so I see evangelicals, especially the thirsty ones, trying to still find depth and meaning in the evangelical enclaves; all the while being in a tradition that is deprived of such resource. I believe there is still hope for evangelicals, but at the moment I think it is in self-destruct mode.
The Gospel is more about Jesus and less about conversionism. While I still believe conversion is an important aspect of the Great Commission, I think discipleship is even more important. Evangelicals, in my view, suck at discipleship! Again, they don’t even really know where to begin in regard to building their parishioners up within the historic Christian faith. Everything remains at the shallow end, and there is a pervasive anti-intellectualism that remains present for evangelicals. The answer isn’t though intellectualism, the answer is genuine Christian dogmatics that work in the process of teaching people the language of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am praying that this work can still happen within evangelicalism; maybe its current implosion will have a purifying effect resulting in a new trajectory wherein evangelicals can get plugged into the great heritage of the historic Christian church. Until then what I see as implosion will continue to happen in disheartening ways.
Please excuse this rambling post, for that is what it is …