I’ve been saying for some time now that American Evangelicalism will enter a significant decline, if not collapse, in the near future. I say this primarily because American Evangelicalism has aligned itself with political conservatism – a wedding of conservative theology with conservative socio-politics. (Equally so, conservative politics via the Republican Party has been absorbed into the politicized Religious Right. To be a Christian one must be a far-right Republican. To be a “real” Republican, one must adhere to the Culture War social agenda.)
This kind of thing has already happened in the past with Mainline Protestantism – a merging of liberal theology (Social Gospel) and liberal politics (more currently manifest through identify-politics and political-correctness). Mainline Protestantism collapsed because the social and political overwhelmed or actually replaced the theological – social action became more important than relationship with God and the worship of God.
Interestingly, the Democratic Party did not fall pray to liberal theology in the same way that the Republican Party has been overrun by the Religious Right. It was a different time.
American-Evangelicals have not learned the lessons of history, and now they are condemned to repeat it.
There is an interesting article in The Christian Science Monitor – once and perhaps still a Gold Standard for the international social and political reporting – entitled The coming evangelical collapse
The article begins:
We are on the verge â€“ within 10 years â€“ of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
I want to comment on a couple points brought up by the author:
â€¢ The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.
I don’t think this will happen! For one thing, those involved in the Emergent Conversation are Evangelicals, even if of the next generation of post-modern different-kind-of-Evangelical than that which is reflected in the Cultural War prone Religious Right. Mainline Protestant liberals are entering into a “Post-Christ” existence that looks far more like Unitarian Universalism than a traditionally understood Christ-centered Christianity and that won’t stop (even as their ever dwindling numbers drive them further into obscurity) – the Emergent folks aren’t going there.
â€¢ Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions.
I think this is where Anglicanism can play an increasingly vital role, if we are able to maintain our Christian distinctiveness and not fall prey to the dividing and reactionary forces – if we resist the compulsion to become like American-Evangelicals or Liberal Protestants! Frankly, were not doing a very good job resisting the temptation. (Much of our current Episcopal Church leaders certainly fall in line with Liberal Protestantism and are unrelenting in their push to remake the Church in their own image, but many of these people are entering retirement age! The next generations of Episcopalians are not like them, thank goodness, as the post-Baby Boomer Evangelicals are not like their parents in their religious experience and expression.)
Faith in American will certainly look different in the next 20 years (and I think 20 more than 10). The triumphalism of Baby-Boomer American Evangelicalism will certainly take a beating. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy will maintain, if not grow, but I doubt they will have a significant impact on the unChurched and increasingly secular people – they will not be viewed as a place to explore faith due to their dogmatism.
Again, by the nature of Traditional Anglicanism where a historic Gospel is proclaimed and seeking and questioning are truly engaged and dealt with and were a comprehensiveness is welcomed in our common life, this seems to fit well with the sensibilities of up and coming generations. Will we be able to take advantage of this for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of us all to God, or will we continue down the road we are currently on to our own division and destruction?