The Great Implosion of North American Evangelicalism

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 timeevangelicalsmuch 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 …

 

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10 Responses to The Great Implosion of North American Evangelicalism

  1. Rein Zeilstra says:

    I think your apprehension is justified. When salvation is to give literal assurances but remains disjointed from sanctification because of the two differing modes of these notions resp, (one is in a sensr of immediacy the latter is about sojourning to a far horizon. Then the believet’s rationale always ends up in a kind of natural theology. Here God is Something quite different to how God insists God IS. The believer ends up in a sea with a big swell. One moment on top of the wave next down in the trough. He then blames the fallen nature ( which is actually no longer alive and quite dead in the Reality whereby God relates to the world). The result is a kind of lockdown in schizoid theoligy. and existence. The trouble in the church is thst their numbeever is legion and few there be that escape.

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  2. John Geerlings says:

    Thanks Bobby
    Writing from just north of the border, when I realize that there are no physical borders in religion. Thanks for your write, it communicates well. Jesus asked in Mathew 16 “Who do people say that the Son of Man is”? A corporate question that places many of us into various categories of standing, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Conservatives or Liberals. Even from here we subdivide into our various denominations. For the most part where the group goes, we go, with little individual response. It is in verse 15 where Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am”? This speaks directly to each one personally without the shroud of the group and allows for labels to be banished and followers to come together.

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  3. Dawn McLaughlin says:

    Amen!

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  4. Bobby Grow says:

    @Rein,

    Interesting comment. I might need you to clarify what you’re getting at, it is a little different in orientation that what I was getting at.

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  5. Bobby Grow says:

    @John,

    Hello. Yeah, the problem with evangelicalism is that by and large it is syncretistic. It has conflated a certain type of rationalist psychology with what it means to be a Christian; and this has become Gospel. So it is difficult to convince evangelicals of the problem, until they experience the fall-out themselves (which some are never able to get to the bottom unfortunately).

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  6. cal says:

    A pointed reply to you, Bobby, might say your criticisms are well and good, but they/we are doing the best they/we can do, and trying to do the work of missions. We’re trying to reach people, you’re abstract yada yada yada.

    I think you’re right that Evangelicalism is by and large syncretistic towards the mass-media culture of America, and this is how Fundamentalism tried to soften up and moderate its self towards a greater amount of people. In a funny kind of way, Evangelicals have combined Fundamentalism’s appeal to commoners and non-intellectual (and many times anti-intellectual) approach with Modernism’s utilization of Western trends overall. I find this an interesting tid-bit in terms of 20th century history.

    Anyway, I think it’s a helpful distinction between syncretism and inculturation, though it’s sometimes a fine line. How can the gospel use rationalism or modern psychology as grammar to articulate the gospel? How can theological concepts “translate”? I think the power of the Gospel relativizes cultures, but it’s a too often story when the Church becomes captive to a particular cultural instantiation.

    I think an accomplished scholarly masterpiece has been the overturn of the old Harnackian thesis and the demonstration of how the early Church waged a war to effectively evangelize their Hellenic grammar against those who’d take them captive. I think this is an interesting paradigm of maybe our role. It follows St. Paul’s battle in Galatia against Judaizers. How do we take their victory, following the Apostle, and be marshaled to do the same? It’s a project for us all to contemplate.

    cal

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  7. Bobby Grow says:

    Cal,

    There was nothing really constructive about my criticisms. They are raw and just how I feel and what I sense; in that regard I’m not really interested in any pointed responses — I could care less about any type of rationalizations by anyone about what is going on.

    The old Harnackian thesis is interesting, but again, I wasn’t feeling very constructive when I wrote this post, and I’m still not.

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  8. Pingback: Thomas Torrance On American evangelical Churches Gone to Seed, Personality Cults, and the Worship of Pastors Rather than Jesus | The Evangelical Calvinist

  9. cal says:

    That’s cool Bobby, I figured that. I just thought I’d add my 2 cents in regardless and see if anyone wanted to continue the conversation. I have plenty of problems with American evangelicalism myself, if you ever read some of the things I wrote.

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  10. Jim says:

    Bobby, I appreciate your response to cal.

    Liked by 1 person

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