Early in February, I wrote a post titled, “LDS history and organization: a cautionary tale from the Catholics“. It deal with the controversy within the Catholic Church over the Legion of Christ and recent revelations regarding its founder, Father Marciel Maciel. I drew conclusions about the need for the LDS Church to continue to to be open and honest regarding its own history.
Today in the Christian Science Monitor is an article by Michael Spencer, a self-described “postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality”. The article is entitled “The coming evangelical collapse”, and while I think that Spencer may be overstating his thesis, his reasons for thinking that Evangelical Christianity will collapse are worth considering as Latter-day Saints:
1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. . . .
2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. . . .
3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. . . .
4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.
5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. . . .
6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.
7. The money will dry up.
For the most part, the Church has avoided or is seeking to avoid these very problems. The big exception is #1, particularly in light of Proposition 8 in California (the irony being that the Evangelical group Focus on the Family alone spent three times what the LDS Church did in supporting Prop 8, yet no one is burning Bibles in front of FotF HQ down in Colorado Springs [or as we say here in Colorado, “the Springs”]).
I do not have enough expertise in the Evangelical churches to judge the accuracy of Spencer’s observations and the likelihood of his predictions. My suspicious is that he is (consciously or not) overstating his case in order to conform with his own frustrations and expectations, something not unknown here in the Bloggernacle. But be sure to read the whole article. ..bruce..
[UPDATE: Here’s a post to discuss possible futures of the LDS Church, particularly in America.]
5 thoughts on “And now a cautionary lesson from the Evangelicals”
I’m too centered in Mormonism to judge how accurate or overstated his predictions might be. What jumped out at me is one grand difference between how he writes about his foreseen demise of evangelicalism and how I would expect any Mormon who predicted the decline of Mormonism to write about it:
I would expect a Mormon to be concerned about the mission assigned to the church — how are we going to reach the world? how are we going to redeem the dead? There is no sense of that in this article. It’s as though evangelicalism doesn’t have a mission beyond its own survival.
Well, to a certain extent, it doesn’t — and I don’t mean that in a negative way. One foundation of the Protestant Reformation was (and is) the “five solas”: by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, Christ alone, glory to God alone. Given that, Evangelism per se doesn’t have a mission beyond, well, evangelizing — that is, bearing witness of Christ in word and deed in hopes that others will accept Him. And I haven’t even thrown issues of predestination and justification into the mix.
There is no central authority or organization, no priesthood, no Correlation Committee, and definitely no prophets, apostles, or seventies. Formal missionary work has typically focused on non-Christian groups and has usually had a very strong emphasis on humanitarian effort as well. In some ways, it couldn’t be more different from the LDS Church, with our focus on historicity, dispensationalism, revelation, organization, authority, consistency, and the three-fold mission of the Church.
Spencer’s key insights, in my opinion, are those regarding Evangelical youth. The LDS Church is both focused on and worried about our own youth, since more ‘members of record’ (those born into the Church) tend to drift away in their mid- to late teens than at any other age. I found this description particularly interesting:
It sounds like one long EFY/Youth Conference approach. And though I’ve groused at times, this shows the wisdom (and, dare I say, inspiration?) of the Seminary program. Between Seminary and Sunday School, not to mention Family Home Evening and family scriputre study, our youth reach 18 ignorant of our faith only by deliberate choice and parental neglect. If anything, we should step up the level of teaching in all tracks. ..bruce..