Some basic concepts at Internet Monk (1) — Post-evangelical
I thought it might be a good time to review some basic concepts that have taken hold over the years here at Internet Monk. Some of these, of course, were introduced by the blog’s founder, Michael Spencer. Others come from Chaplain Mike, with thanks to friends and partners who have contributed. Since I, Chaplain Mike, am setting these forth, the language and emphases will be mine (except where directly quoted from Michael or others).
In my view, these represent the “fundamentals,” as it were, of Internet Monk. These are the themes the site and its conversations are built upon, the themes we return to again and again.
We begin today with an adjective used often around here. The subtitle for the blog for years was, “Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.” Though we adapted that a few years ago to “Conversations in the Great Hall,” we who write at Internet Monk by and large continue our journey away from American evangelicalism and remain critical of that culture.
• • •
“…to be post-evangelical is to reject evangelical culture in favor of a more catholic, diverse and ancient expression of the Christian faith, while adhering to evangelical doctrine without becoming part of team or faction operating under the illusion of superiority to others and a closure of the Christian conversation.”
For Michael Spencer, me, and many others here at Internet Monk, American “evangelicalism” became a problem. How did Michael define this “evangelicalism”? Here is a summary of his thoughts, taken from a 2006 post called “What Do I Mean by Post-Evangelical?”.
Evangelicalism [is] a twentieth century movement meeting the following qualifications:
- Protestant, even strongly anti-Catholic
- Baptistic, even in its non-Baptist form
- Shaped by the influence of Billy Graham and his dominance as an symbol and leader
- Shaped by the influence of Southern Baptist dominance in the conception of evangelism
- Influenced by revivalism and the ethos of the Second Great Awakening
- Open to the use of technology
- Oriented around individualistic pietism and a vision of individualistic Christianity
- Committed to church growth as the primary evidence of evangelism
- Committed to missions as a concept and a calling, but less as a methodology
- Asserting sola scriptura, but largely unaware of the influence of its own traditions
- Largely anti-intellectual and populist in its view of education
- Traditionally conservative on social, political and cultural issues
- Anti-creedal, reluctantly confessional
- Revisionist toward Christian history in order to establish its own historical legitimacy
- Attempting, and largely failing, to establish a non-fundamentalist identity
- A low view of the sacraments and sacramental theology
- A dispensational eschatology, revolving around the rapture and apocalyptic views of immanent last days
I think if Michael were writing this list today, he would include more about the pervasive influence of various forms of Pentecostal/Charismatic movements and the prosperity gospel in evangelicalism, and especially the more profound and public involvement of evangelicals in American politics and the culture wars. In his most famous post, The Coming Evangelical Collapse (2009), he made this forecast:
Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This was a mistake that will have brutal consequences. They are not only going to suffer in losing causes, they will be blamed as the primary movers of those causes. Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.
The investment of evangelicals in the culture war will prove out to be one of the most costly mistakes in our history. The coming evangelical collapse will come about, largely, because our investment in moral, social and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. We’re going to find out that being against gay marriage and rhetorically pro-life (yes, that’s what I said) will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence and are believing in a cause more than a faith.
To be a post-evangelical is described by Michael Spencer like this: “I mean that I do not recognize the boundary lines of American evangelicalism as the boundary lines of true Christianity.” Today, with their prominence in the political/culture wars, evangelicalism has not only stepped forward to say they are the only true Christianity but that they are the only true promoters of the American project. Speaking for myself, this has only further distanced me from a religious culture I spent most of my life serving.
Michael goes on to list some contrary conclusions he came to, having observed this evangelical culture.
- Creeds have positive and defining roles.
- Practicing any form of Christian community should interact with the larger church in history and reality.
- Christian belief emerges from a matrix of the text of Holy Scripture, the history of interpretation, cultural and sub-cultural presuppositions, the use of reason, the place of experience, the wisdom of the teachers of the larger church and the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing more light. Not from a “magic book.”
- The paradigms of denominationalism, education, worship, church growth, evangelism, Christian experience and so on that have dominated evangelicalism in the twentieth century are dead.
- Words like “postmodern,” “emerging” and “missional” are in the process of being defined and filled with meaning, and are not to be ridiculed and rejected out of hand.
- I reject the idea that the primary role of a minister is to define other Christians as wrong.
- The death of evangelicalism opens the door for a return to the sources and a fresh examination of the meaning of Jesus.
- Large churches are not the good thing we thought they were, and the renewal of the church, ministry and worship is a movement of many, small churches.
- Those leading worship and teaching the Christian life in American Christianity should repent of their previous allegiance to the assumptions of evangelicalism and seek to hear the voice of the Spirit again.
Again, if this list were written today, much more would be said about the mixture of politics and faith as well as the infiltration of dubious theological influences such as the prosperity gospel, third-wave pentecostalism (neo-charismatic movement), and the New Apostolic Reformation.
I have written my own list of the characteristics of American evangelical culture that I found troubling, which ultimately became deal-breakers for me.
- A lack of understanding of and respect for history and tradition,
- A “solo Scriptura,” “biblicist,” literalistic, precisionist view of the Bible that does not adequately grasp the human genesis of the biblical material and its historical development into becoming “scripture,” not allowing room for literary genre and ancient ways of communication, neglecting the history of biblical interpretation, failing to recognize the authority of the church in relation to scripture, and the influence of many other factors in reading and interpreting the Bible,
- Paradigms of church growth that stress building institutions rather than loving and helping people,
- Models of church structure, leadership, and organization that turn the church into a corporate marketing and business enterprise rather than the fellowship of God’s people,
- Models of ministry that depend on strategies, plans, and programs more than upon the Word and Spirit,
- A continual confusion of means and ends, and the inability to see that changing methods can and does alter the message,
- Pastors who are CEOs or inspirational speakers rather than pastors and spiritual directors,
- Preaching that sets forth principles to help us live as good, moral people, rather than proclaiming what Jesus did and does for lost and sinful people,
- Separatism: a “temple-oriented” approach to the Christian life wherein everything revolves around the church and its programs (“churchianity”), so that churches are turned into family-friendly, religious activity centers rather than places of true discipleship designed to send people back into daily life where the real Christian life is lived,
- “Worship” that is more about the worshiper and his/her preferences and emotional experiences than about giving honor to the true and living God and reenacting the story of Christ,
- Captivity to a conservative (usually Republican) political agenda,
- An inability to see the dangers of power and greed as clearly as the dangers of immorality, and a failure to see all three in its own people and institutions while simultaneously living in judgment of the “world’s” sins,
- A culture-war approach to public issues, wherein believers and churches take up rhetorical “arms” and wage war against those who disagree with them,
- An entire culture of religious consumers strung along by a “Christian-industrial complex” of corporations who get rich by marketing and selling stuff to them.
To describe ourselves as post-evangelical is to tell people where we’ve been, it doesn’t say anything about where we’re going. Michael spent the rest of his life in the “post-evangelical wilderness,” never finding an ecclesiastical home. If you read from the beginning of the blog’s archives, you can trace his travels down various paths as he explored and conversed with other pilgrims along the way. His passion became to seek a “Jesus-shaped spirituality,” rather than one formed by a church he felt had abandoned that pursuit (“mere churchianity”).
As for me, I eventually found a liturgical/theological oasis in the mainline church, the ELCA Lutheran church to be exact. Nevertheless, to this day I still experience a high level of ecclesiastical discomfort and skepticism. I don’t really view myself as a “churchman” any longer. Though I accept my pastoral vocation, I mostly practice it in a community-wide ministry of chaplaincy rather than as a parish pastor. I do remain involved with a local congregation as an adjunct to my hospice and community work, and I find great joy in presiding at the Word and Table with a church family for a portion of each year. But I no longer have much interest in the workings of the institution, it structures, or its programs. So there remains a “wilderness” dimension to my life. I’m not only post-evangelical, but post-ecclesiastical. I still feel somewhat in exile, having known a “home” for many years only to find myself unexpectedly alienated from it and now, in many ways, opposed to what it represents.
At Internet Monk, we are post-evangelicals.
For further reading here at iMonk, I suggest these articles:
- My So-Called Evangelical Life (1)
- My So-Called Evangelical Life (2)
- It’s the Culture
- Evangelical Ecumenism and a Jesus-Shaped Guest List
- iMonk Class Review: Defining Evangelicalism and Post-Evangelicalism
- Three Questions about Post-Evangelicalism
Here are a few phrases that describe essential concepts from Internet Monk we’ll look at in more detail in days to come. If you have others you’d like me to write about, send me an email.
- Wilderness journey
- Mere churchianity
- Jesus-shaped spirituality
- The coming evangelical collapse
- The gospel
- Dangerous grace
- Why we must not be “good” Christians
- The “ordinary” life (contra “radical” Christianity)
- Drawn to the religionless
- Comforting the brokenhearted
- What is the Bible? What is it for?
- God’s good creation (Genesis, et al)
- Tikkun olam and the human vocation
- Shalom and the hope of new creation
69 thoughts on “Let’s Review: Some basic concepts at Internet Monk (1) — Post-evangelical”
As the great philosophers said, “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.”
I believe evangelicals made a serious mistake by aligning themselves too closely with the Republican Party. Now they can be dismissed as just another GOP interest group.
At the same time, my enthusiasm for the GOP as a young man didn’t have much to do with evangelicalism. I grew up in the South during an era when far too many Democrats still clung to segregationist beliefs. I had older relatives who were Democrats because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. I volunteered for a number of GOP candidates’ campaigns back in the day.
Today I consider myself an independent who disagrees with the leadership of both major parties, though I confess to occasionally voting in open primaries where I’m not required to sign a loyalty oath. I don’t consider myself a fan of President Trump, but I also don’t consider him the devil incarnate. I suspect the majority of white evangelical support for Mr. Trump in 2016 was more of a “lesser of the evils” choice between him and Hillary Clinton.
“My problem with the “post-evangelical” label is that at some point we need to stop defining ourselves by what we’ve turned away from, and need to start focusing more on what we’re moving toward.”
Good point. Of course, some of us are still on the journey trying to find what we’re moving toward. Christianity, yes, but which branch thereof is still in question.
I grew up Episcopalian so I have liturgical roots. I began embracing evangelicalism as a college student and then became involved with the charismatic movement while part of a coffeehouse ministry as a young adult. I put all three of those together through my involvement in a charismatic Episcopal church after I relocated to my current metropolitan area in the 1980’s. I currently belong to an Anglican congregation that leans more toward the evangelical and Reformed sides of the spectrum. However, I’ve been at odds with my church in recent years and especially since we got a new rector about 14 months ago. I’ve been re-examining my faith as well.
I’m not sure whether I consider myself evangelical or post-evangelical; I see advantages and disadvantages to both positions. While I still embrace some basic charismatic beliefs, I reject the prosperity gospel and the megachurch movement. I’m tired of pastors who act more like CEO’s than shepherds. So what’s next?
And the longer and more isolated you’ve been in the bubble, the greater the shock when the bubble pops.
Which since 2016 has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump Inc.
Fundamentalism and “More On Fire Than Thou” is an attitude (or pathology) that can attach itself to ANY belief system. And when a Fundy switches belief systems, he brings his pathology with him.
This is the same “church history” you find in the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, CoGs, and Moonies..
Where the Perfect New Testament Church went off the rails into Romish Popery and all was darkness and Counnterfeit until God Revealed Himself To Our Founder Who Restored The One True Church (us four, no more, Amen).
Correction: William Hamilton
It is enough that you are our comrade and friend, Klasie.
Like foaming at the mouth as a result of CNN’s Don Lemon not believing and/or articulating a theologically “correct” understanding of Jesus moral perfection. How dare he persecute Christians like that!
Now that’s interesting.
Some melancholy at first. Then relief. The title of my deconversion series of posts here some years ago was a description of experience – “The Slow Relief of Unbelief”.
I think we are living in quite eventful times. I was “saved“ (I think I lost that salvation but I’m still stumbling in the light) in 1976. That was an extraordinarily eventful time in evangelicalism. What has occurred since then has been noteworthy as well through many changes in the culture. If these years and these changes don’t make public school or university textbooks they will most certainly be documented in the history taught in the seminaries.
Dog and pony- “they all seem like games how hosts to me” Sting
Richard, that’s similar to my understanding of the evangelical / fundamentalist divide, but it depends on whom you’re listening to.
I think about mid-20th century a distinction began, due to the efforts of Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry. They wanted to offer the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith without the fundamentalism.
Part of it may have been a marketing ploy, and it sure did work for Billy—but I’ve met Dr. Ockenga a few times and I don’t think he would have had anything to do with promoting the faith through PR measures. So I believe the differences were also theological. And, on the other side of the theological fence stood J.I. Packer, who insisted at that time that the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” remain inseparable, that to be evangelical WAS to be fundamentalist. He lost that argument for several decades to Billy, but Packer may now be getting the latest word.
And, as you said, another shift occurred in the 1980s. The 1973 Roe vs Wade decision produced a counter-attack in the election of Reagan, and we’ve been choosing sides (or bailing out) ever since. To me, it looks like evangelicalism and fundamentalism are merging again, this time with a harsh new-calvinist twist, like it or leave it. Many of us have left.
Eeyore, above, mentioned the acceleration of the process with the coronavirus crisis, that “With evangelicalism rapidly doubling down on becoming the religious arm of the Republican Party, and all those not comfortable with that are departing.”
Yep. Stay tuned. Evangelicalism, like Hinduism, may indeed be a Great River, changing all the time.
And “Christian College” only postpones the reckoning. Sooner or later, you have to come out of the bubble…
If you split things up by ethnicity, white evangelicals are actually losing more of their young than any other group:
Black evangelical churches, meanwhile, are having *less* trouble attracting and keeping young people than anyone else. So if you lump all evangelicals together, it looks like evangelicalism is doing okay, but that obscures what’s really going on.
Klasie, I agree with Rick. We need you.
I’m still calling myself “evangelical” for lack of a better term, and to avoid confusion. Certainly not a “None” and not a “Done” either, but I’ve tried to leave a lot of the baggage behind, and in that sense I relate with the “Dones.”
Klasie, have you noticed a sadness, a kind of grieving, including the various stages of grief, when someone, perhaps yourself, leaves the faith? I mean, I haven’t left the faith, but there was a profound sense of grief when I came to realize that my branch of evangelicalism has itself veered from faith (side topic: I heard Russell Moore say a similar thing in an interview with NPR a week or two ago).
The two qualifications in Michael Spencer’s list that stood out to me are:
–Attempting, and largely failing, to establish a non-fundamentalist identity
–A low view of the sacraments and sacramental theology
To me, it seems that evangelicalism is merging once again with fundamentalism, after several decades of distinction. In the mid-twentieth century, Billy Graham and others began to offer the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith without the social and political add-ons, and it may have worked for a while, but evangelicalism is being re-defined by fundamentalists once again.
The “low view” of the sacraments is interesting. For one thing, they are referred to as “ordinances,” not “sacraments,” because sacrament is a Roman Catholic term (see Qualification #1 in Michael’s list).
We baptists have a particularly low view of the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion, but do not get caught calling it “Eucharist” or “Mass”). This is practiced once per month whether we need it or not, and we are reminded that it is a “reminder” of the Lord’s body and blood, and a reminder only, not to be taken literally, or even as a symbol, for that could be confused with idolatry. And besides, that’s what the Catholics do.
Baptism, however, is taken more seriously. And, although baptists would be among the first to insist that baptism is not necessary for salvation, darn it, it sure is necessary for membership in the church. So you’d better fall in line with that church tradition, meanwhile denouncing church tradition as a Roman Catholic practice.
I’m finding that we really are very liturgical after all. This gets underscored when visitors from other states come to First Baptist while on vacation and exclaim how very much it is like their church, “Why, you’d hardly know the difference!” Or, when I spent a few weeks in Costa Rica and attended a baptist church founded and pastored by an American missionary, and noticed how very much like First Baptist that one was. Only in Spanish.
Possibly, one of the good outcomes of the covid-19 crisis will be the opportunity to explore other churches online (particularly in other denominations), and to see other styles, other music, and hear sermons that stress other points from the bible.
Ah… Red Dwarf. Smegging great show!
I’m flattered, but no. 🙂
Maybe I can write a follow up on my 3 year old posts.
What I do think is that decent, rational and kind people should cooperate. Across boundaries.
Indeed, and prior to that, as noted by Eric Hoffer in “The True Believer,” the Nazis were eager to receive Communist converts as they made good foot soldiers for the movement. The easiest person to convert is another fanatic.
Good! You’re not likely to mess people up then. To “return filled with the Spirit and announcing the new shape of the coming Kingdom.” is quite scary – you get things like the New Apostolic Reformation.
Oh Yes. And those who drift/wander in a form of Hell ever since.
Or even older youth programs; speaking as someone involved in “college” ministry for years. I don’t know what we really offered [most] of the people who passed through that helped build an enduring relationship.
Good, if painful, line.
It also makes me realize that Youth Programs tend to produce “ex-Christians” too, given how few teens head off to college and remain in the faith. (Not sure what the percentage is, but it has to be low.)
Klasie, you should come back to the faith, because our faith needs people like you!
A keeper “document.”
From Red Dwarf, season 1…
HOLLY: “And the righteous in the second ark flew ever onward, knowing
they were indeed righteous.”
LISTER: This is terrible. Holy wars. Killing. They’re just using
religion as an excuse to be extremely crappy to each other.
Yep. And yep.
Thanks, Chaplain Mike. It’s always good to go back to basics, and the passage of time and the shape of the journey of “the regulars” here remain helpful. It’s interesting to see what has changed, and what has remained the same – on many fronts. There’s still a lot to think about.
Looking forward to your further writing on this.
Thanks for this reminder, Christiane. Beauty carries many people forward, and Michael had a heart that was able to receive it.
My experience among Evangelicals has been that most of what they call “beautiful” is really senitmentality. They flee connections to the ancient church out of fear of being “too Catholic”. Unlike Dr. O, they cannot see – or refuse to see – any heritage. Christian history for them is: 1) the time when the New Testament was written followed by 2) the “takeover” of primitive Christianity by the Roman Catholics, which they see as the captivity of the church, then 3) the Reformation when things started to get right again, and for many of them 4) the time when “my own group” was founded.
Yes, we are all better for Michael’s epiphany and his writing. He was saying what a lot of us were thinking and what some of us were afraid of saying out loud (for various reasons).
I keep hoping that some will stay and work to change things from within, as there are so many little ones and very old people in that ‘white evangelical’ culture that is now infected with ‘trumpism’ . . . .
I hope for healing, but I don’t even know how it got so infected. It’s so grim to see it.
This post brings to mind something written by Michael Spencer years ago about an experience he had as a boy when he joined a school choir that was presenting a Christmas program. The teacher chose a song Michael had never heard, and had also never ‘experienced’ anything quite like it. Michael, who said he was from ‘country people’ found a tremendous joy in the beauty of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”
This ‘experience’ opened a whole new world for Michael Spencer who saw in the beauty of that hymn something that reflected ‘another’ world out there that was filled with wonder and beauty and evoked the Creator for Michael through the aesthetic
appeal of the classic Christian hymn. Michael called his experience with this hymn in choir ‘an awakening’.
Thing is, ‘modern’ evangelicals are also ‘heirs’ to the old expressions of the faith of the Church in days gone by when many were illiterate: the catacombs, the great Christian art and icons, the ‘stories’ of the lives of the saints, the architecture of the Churches and cathedrals, the music of ‘ancient Church’ so strange and unlike the praise music of modern times, but all non-verbally reflecting a theology that was ‘passed down’ through the ages from those earlier Christians of time immemorial, who were, are and always will be members of the Body of Christ to which all young evangelicals trust that they themselves belong. Ancient Church is their heritage too from that great ancient family of the Body of Christ.. Though many of them may sadly never know of it.
Michael Spencer discovered something that awakened his hunger for aesthetic beauty as reflection of the Creator through that special hymn. His recounting of that experience has stayed with my own memories as there was something of pathos and poignancy about his ‘awakening’ through that hymn, as though it filled a ‘longing’ he had for ‘something more’.
Dr. Olson on his blog uses the term ‘spiritual ancestors’. . . . . I have found that among those who are ‘bound’ in fundamentalist-evangelicalism, that there seems to be a thirst for connection to that ancient Body of Christ and Michael connected with the ‘spirit’ of it in that beautiful old hymn and he couldn’t go ‘back’ into the shallowness after that, no.
Yes, Michael went ‘forward’ into his spiritual heritage, Michael Z. And it was his ‘report’ of this journey, so honest, so grounded, so insightful that has helped us all who came to ‘Imonk’. A blessing, yes.
We are the better for Michael’s epiphany. 🙂
One thing I hear over and over again in analyses of the impact of the coronavirus is that it is rapidly accelerating changes and trends that were already in motion. With evangelicalism rapidly doubling down on becoming the religious arm of the Republican Party, and all those not comfortable with that are departing.
I think this is what distinguishes current trends from the past. People now are headed out the door in unprecedented numbers. Never to return. And it’s only going to get worse as the generations change. Will we ever get as secular as Europe? Five years ago I would have said no.
Another form of Bedroom Evangelism/”Outbreed The Heathen”.
Quite Darwinist, actually. According to Gould, when Darwin coined the phrase “Survival of the Fittest”, he was referring to relative reproductive success over many generations.
The NEW One True Way.
When the USSR secured Eastern Europe after WW2, they often “recruited” rank-and-file secret police enforcers from former Nazi rank-and-file secret police enforcers.
How do you think the term “Evangelicals” came into being?
“Whether the State can loose and bind
In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
Before or after the birth–
These are matters of high concern
Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
Endeth in Holy War.
“Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote–
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.
“Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King–
Or Holy People’s Will–
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
“Once there was The People–Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, 0 ye slain!
Once there was The People–it shall never be again!”
— Rudyard Kipling, “MacDonough’s Song”, 1922
This poem is a theme song of one of Kipling’s few proto-SF stories, “As Easy as ABC”.
Ever heard of the phrase “KILL THEM ALL! LET GOD SORT THEM OUT!”?
Or “DEUS VULT!!!!!”?
Because Holy Wars (and Middle-Eastern Blood Feuds) only end in one way.
“The Evangelical church has always been very good a producing ex-Christians.”
Wow. So sadly true.
Klasie, you are so on target with this comment that it hurts.
Comment of the day!
I hear a lot of that rhetoric from both (all?) sides. Let’s pray all the war talk never moves beyond the metaphor arena.
“I have often observed, and reading this blog will highlight it for many, the weariness of those that remain post-evangelical. To be post evangelical doesn’t imply loss of faith necessarily… but it does seem to imply a cynicism about the dog-and-pony show that defines much of Christianity.”
THIS: “””the Fundamentalists holding the field, they embraced the word “Evangelical” and redefined “fundamentalist” as “those crazies over there, not nice people like us,” which is how the word is used to this day. “”” Exactly, this.
> Falwell Jr., having no theology,
Clearly. And it is a common error of Theological/Ideological types to see Theology/Ideology where there is none.
> There is no inherent reason, …. for a charismatic movement to be conservative.
> Really rather the opposite would be more natural.
The conservatives have the money?
> The Evangelical church has always been very good a producing ex-Christians
Has it? If one looks at the outward flow the Evangelicals score the best; they keep something like 2/3rd of their young within the camp. They certainly wail and moan about losing 1/3rd but keeping 2/3rds is extraordinary, and better than nearly every other camp. At that rate the Evangelicals can survive through vigorous breeding — something no one else can do.
Unless that 2/3rds retention rate is *now* in rapid decline. I don’t know that we know that yet.
> I am not sure I ever really had true relationships within the evangelical world either,
> so I am not sure I have lost that much.
I feel yah. All the years, and thousands of hours I poured into the Evangelical machine, and i have two relationships which have endured into mid-life. For all the talk of relationship and community; that’s really telling.
As I read this I was make mental notes of critiques, only to find those critiques addressed a bit later. I could pick nits, but mostly my disagreements, if such they are, are over emphasis.
Modern Evangelicalism took its modern form in the 1980s, but the basis of this came from mid-century. As I see it, two roughly simultaneous events are key. Evangelicalism before WWII was divided between Fundamentalists and non-Fundamentalists. Fundamentalism as a formal concept was a northern movement, but only because the positions it stated were the default in the south, where in the north there was a conversation going on. The Great Reclassification of mid-century redefined non-Fundamentalists as also being non-Evangelicals. So arose the “mainline Protestant” church. This is why the Methodists, who invented Evangelicalism two centuries earlier, are not longer thought of as Evangelicals. The the Fundamentalists holding the field, they embraced the word “Evangelical” and redefined “fundamentalist” as “those crazies over there, not nice people like us,” which is how the word is used to this day.
So far this is straightforward. I frankly do not yet have a grasp on exactly how it happened, but that it happened is clear, and in keeping with the fundamentalist characteristic of not playing well with others. Then something surprising happened. They welcomed the Pentecostals into the Evangelical tent. This was contingent on the personality of Billy Graham. He was a Fundamentalist, but peculiarity that he did play well with others. He oozed charisma, but it was his playing well that put him over the top, making him the Protestant Pope. So it is that these two groups, which in any logical world would have nothing to do with one another, are joined together. And while there is sniping back and forth, it is very much in-group sniping, not condemnations of outsiders.
This alliance had huge implications which are still working themselves out today. One is that the Pentecostal side is where the growth is. The rise of neo-Calvinism is a reaction to this, and something of a rear guard action. Look at Liberty University, which quietly switched sides. Falwell Jr., having no theology, saw which way the wind was blowing and turned with it. At the same time, this tied the Pentecostal movement to the Fundamentalist agenda. There is no inherent reason, as Diarmaid MacCullough points out, for a charismatic movement to be conservative. Really rather the opposite would be more natural. Look at the Quakers. Early Pentecostals were racially progressive. Some vestiges of this remain, but for the most part they got over this. At this point Pentecostalism is a reactionary movement.
Michael Spenser’s prediction of the Evangelical collapse got the timing wrong, but I think things are coming to a head. The Evangelical church has always been very good a producing ex-Christians. Tying itself to Trumpism may be the tipping point, turning Evangelicalism from being a respectable mainstream religion to being like those guys handling snakes and worshiping the King James Version. I just hope they don’t take the rest of Christianity down with them.
It makes more sense to regard an institution such as this as a denomination rather than a congregation. I suspect that it furthermore is an entirely top-down denomination, with the hierarchy having absolute power such as a Renaissance Pope could only dream of. The open question is of long-term stability. Even apart from broader changes to religious patterns in America, these places tend to be cults of personality, without any good ideas what to do once the senior pastor retires or dies or is caught in a cheap motel with a rent boy. The frequent default to his kids inheriting the church is a telling sign.
As an outsider looking back on it all, I think there is another characteristic I have observed – namely that those that became post-evangelical were also post enthusiast. Many others that left evangelicalism immediately found something else. And then became enthusiasts, super-members, etc. Whether it is Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or whatever, what distinguishes them is the spirit of the (perpetual?) new convert, immediately proclaiming that they have discovered “IT”. Blind to the many failings of their new club, they essentially joined a different squad in the culture wars.
In contrast, I have often observed, and reading this blog will highlight it for many, the weariness of those that remain post-evangelical. To be post evangelical doesn’t imply loss of faith necessarily (in my case, I didn’t lose as much as abandon, see my posts 3 years ago) – but it does seem to imply a cynicism about the dog-and-pony show that defines much of Christianity.
In the old days of running my own blog, I used to do a yearly “Where am I today”. Today’s post would be a good time to update.
I am in communion with a mainline denomination (ELCA). I have made the decision to only participate in word, liturgy, and sacrament and avoid all mainline denomination politics. This decision as well as the culture of my local church has resulted in me having few to no close relationships within the local church. But, I am not sure I ever really had true relationships within the evangelical world either, so I am not sure I have lost that much.
Online, I mostly engage with Eastern Orthodox writers, especially Father Freeman and a couple of congregations which put their liturgy on youtube. I am intrigued, but due to family and other personal beliefs, I seriously doubt I will ever be in communion with EO.
The schisming between Fundamentalists and We-Are-Not-Really-Fundamantelists[But-Yes-We-Still-Are] does seem to be something that rinse-and-repeats.
> we need to stop defining ourselves by what we’ve turned away from, and need to
> start focusing more on what we’re moving toward
I hear yah; yet the going towards – that may not happen in an individual life-time. Exiles are often counted in generations.
Also the post-Xs are not an individuals sole identity. I am post-Several-Things while being current-Several-Things, which may or may not overlap in domain.
> the evangelical collapse becomes more and more undeniable
I’m not so sure it is collapsing as it is fortifying. The siege may be long. As the post states “””will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.”””. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. We’re there. I expect we will live in the shadow of that tower for long time to come. 😦
> will start forming a *positive* vision of what we will build in its place
That’s happening; and has been documented here. This includes the “slow” movement, etc… And actually existing *IN*, rather than “coming alongside” [Ugh, no!], existing communities – – – it isn’t very BLOG worthy, it’s many things at very small scale.
“The wilderness can be a very fruitful place, but the John the Baptists and Desert Fathers who are called to spend their whole lives there are a tiny minority. The majority of us, like Jesus, are called instead to journey into the wilderness for a season only to return filled with the Spirit and announcing the new shape of the coming Kingdom.”
It would be nice. However, it’s been nigh on 15 years of trekking into the wilderness for me, and I don’t see a path out yet.
Good to see you back.
Excellent review. What a journey it has been!
My problem with the “post-evangelical” label is that at some point we need to stop defining ourselves by what we’ve turned away from, and need to start focusing more on what we’re moving toward. The wilderness can be a very fruitful place, but the John the Baptists and Desert Fathers who are called to spend their whole lives there are a tiny minority. The majority of us, like Jesus, are called instead to journey into the wilderness for a season only to return filled with the Spirit and announcing the new shape of the coming Kingdom.
So, my hope is that in the next decade or two as the evangelical collapse becomes more and more undeniable, the people who have been displaced by it will start forming a *positive* vision of what we will build in its place, instead of just a *negative* critique of what came before. The critique is necessary, because it’s how we learn from the past and how we root out the things in our own hearts that made us vulnerable to such a distorted and unhealthy Christianity, but we won’t have the strength to do that work of deconstruction and repentance if we don’t believe that at the end of that journey we’ll arrive at a deeper and freer and healthier faith.
> demands to exempt churches from coronavirus restrictions
It is clearly symptomatic of “””Separatism: a “temple-oriented” approach””” – where the church is viewed not as distinct from the state, but sovereign entity antagonistic to the state. Their churches are viewed as distinct from all other community institutions, rather than in partnership with them. It’s very sad.
I love this definition, and thank you for reiterating this. That stated, could most of this definition also apply to 19th century evangelicalism as well? I’m doing some research right now on New EnglandProtestant movement, and many, if not all, of the descriptors you use here could be applied to that area as well.
All the “war” rhetoric, and general militancy, really does create a terrible framing.
It should not have any place in The Church.
“Merton explained that religious people could no longer depend on traditional institutions to sustain and support their journey on the road of spirituality, that they had to draw on their own inner resources to guide them as the institutions around them failed and disintegrated.”
And I think part of what we are seeing in the demands to exempt churches from coronavirus restrictions is the incapability to imagine Christian faith and practice apart from those institutions. They can risk their lives (and especially others’ lives) far more easily than they can change that.
As you pointed out, it is far less multi-racial as it is uni-cultural – and suburban upper middle class culture is very white indeed. Some non-whites can buy their way in, sure, but at heart it is not really diverse at all.
The problem is, the machine that is feeding off them needs enemies in order to keep fundraising. Like Napoleon’s cannonball, if it were ever to stop rolling, it would lose all power.
Aside from the obvious anger from the political/culture war, the biggest change I have seen in the past 10 years is the multi-site and regional church descended from the charismatic movements. We have a 40000+ church that stretches across the entire state. I am not exactly familiar with its beliefs, but it is descended from the charismatic movements and seems to be a variant of the prosperity gospel. The goal is to be a successful family and successful upper middle class American.
They are at some level multi-racial, but recent events resulted in the pastor saying and doing some things that reflect is it not as multi-racial as they had led people to believe.
As told by Thomas Merton in a lecture at a conference of monastics in Bangkok on the last day of his life, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche found himself staying in small village with a peasant family and cut-off from his Tibetan Buddhist monastery during the invasion of Tibet by China in 1950. He managed to get a message through to an abbot friend of his asking what they should do. The abbot sent back a message in reply: “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own two feet.” Merton explained that religious people could no longer depend on traditional institutions to sustain and support their journey on the road of spirituality, that they had to draw on their own inner resources to guide them as the institutions around them failed and disintegrated. Merton may have not been post-evangelical, but, though he remained a monk in a Roman Catholic order, he was well on the road of inner post-ecclesiasticalism.
I have relatives who speak of the current cultural / political situation as a war to be won. I keep wondering what they plan to do with the defeated if they do win?
And there are no more devoted Christians. In their own minds.