Post Evangelical Roundtable and Orthodoxy

Even though it is old hat at this point – Here is a round table discussion among the post-evangelical set about the predictions from two years ago.For those new to this blog, here are my original posts on the post-evangelical and post orthodoxy comparison – here, here, here and there were about six more posts that treated specific issues.

After two years it seems the issues are less theological and more about the hindsight glance at how they were so invested in specific cultural forms and now people know not to be invested in specific cultural forms. Evangelicals and Centrists did not grasp that they were just a another passing cultural form. Looking back, it was an age of emotionalism in relgion. Years in Israel were about singing from one’s depth. Relgion meant knowing songs, owning teeshirts and all the cultural materialism brought from Israel but one could still be unable to learn. Externals counted more than textual knowledge.  Similar to Evangelicals, The Centrist community lived in a bubble of all Jewish activities and even speaking Modern-Orthodoxese. None of this socialization had anything to do with actual Torah uMitzvot. Now they all recommend a need for basics of doctrine and the proper religious way of life. They all advocate the need to go outside the enclosed bubble. They also have the issue that people are creating worship in the house- not as shtibl- as a form of leadership-less group participation.

The one thing the round table seems to differ with the predictions of two years ago is the need for seminary training. Now they see that those without proper seminary are less effective, more shallow, and don’t impact world.

And in both Evangelicals and Orthodoxy the in-house fighting was terrible.

Writers’ Roundtable: The Coming Collapse Of Evangelicalism
28 Apr by Jeff Dunn

In January, 2009, Michael Spencer fired a shot across the bow of the evangelical church with a three part series, The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism. (You can access all three parts here.) I have asked our iMonk writers to revisit these posts for today’s roundtable discussion. We are two-plus years removed from Michael’s predictions. Was he right? Is the evangelical ship still sinking, or is it finding a way to stay afloat?

Jeff Dunn: Michael wrote, “I believe that we are on the verge—within 10 years—of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former ‘glory.’”

How does that make you feel? What is your first reaction when you read this?

Damaris Zehner: The collapse of evangelicalism is not the same thing as the collapse of Christianity.  Cultural expressions of the faith come and go, and should.  I have never had any emotional investment in evangelicalism – I’ve struggled for decades even to find a conclusive definition of it – so I don’t feel strongly about its future.  If evangelicalism has become the whole of Christianity for some, it probably should die and force people to look more deeply and widely for the Church as C.S Lewis describes in The Screwtape Letters, the Church “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”

JD: Michael wrote, In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions on youth ministers, Christian music, Christian publishing and Christian media has produced an entire burgeoning culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it.

What can be done to recapture these young people who can sing Christian songs by heart, but have no spiritual depth? Who have a closet full of Christian t-shirts, but have no skills when it comes to Scripture? Who know all the right things to say to sound “Christian,” but whose souls are lost?  Lisa?

LD: “Feel” is the key word here. Feeling is not a bad thing. God certainly formed us as emotional beings in his own image, but much of the time we’ve abandoned thinking for feeling, objectivity for subjectivity and theology for sentimentality. This trend wasn’t so much started in church, as it is a result of the church assimilating to a culture that always wants to feel good and be entertained.

AP: Well, I was one of those young people not so long ago. I DID have the closet (drawer, actually) full of Christian t-shirts. I had an exclusively Christian CD collection, purchased from the Christian bookstore where I worked. I listened to my Christian CDs on my way to the Christian university where I went to school, and on the weekends I spent all my time hanging out with Christians. I could quote the Bible and spoke fluent Christianese. I was so far into the bubble I could’ve been a professional gum-chewer.

I have five kids now, and my main desire for them is to avoid all the behavior-based Christianity I lived growing up. Yes, we teach them foundational, doctrinal things about why we believe what we believe, but ultimately my wife and I are trying to model an honest faith that is slathered in enough grace to give us freedom to wrestle with the tough questions.

Modern Christians need to consider what children really are and what they really need.  A few years ago, the church we no longer go to offered the junior high youth group an activity that consisted of eating melted chocolate out of diapers.  There must have been some token “Bible connection,” but what’s really shocking is what this reveals about the leaders’ philosophy about kids.  Kids like gross, revolting, shocking things.  Kids aren’t interested in ideas, or right and wrong.  Kids are really more like wild animals than adults.  And the more kids are treated like that, the more they become like that.

LD: Recently, I spoke with a guy who was trying to reach concertgoers who came to his area once a year and camped out for a week in a nearby farm fields. He kept trying to entice them into his church with free meals, but they wouldn’t come. Finally, he literally pitched a tent among them and cooked the meals on camp stoves. He was overwhelmed with takers – both of food and the Gospel. ‘Missional’ seems to mean more than inviting people to church now; it means taking church to them. If we’re willing to be open to going places we’ve never been and doing things we’ve never done, then “Christian vitality and ministry” can, and probably will be born.

JD: Michael saw a trend developing that others have predicted as well. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, paid staff and numbers its drugs for half a century.

Aside from those folks, though, I think house church and small, intimate gatherings—even monastic-type communities—are becoming more acceptable and even desirable as a means of church expression. Relational currency goes a long way in my generation (and I say this knowingly as the youngest writer at the table here), and I think it goes even farther in the next generation, what with the popularity of social media and the desire to be constantly interconnected. The question becomes: what does church look like to them? They are the ones who are going to take over here in a few years. Any youngsters out there want to weigh in on that question? Perhaps through Twitter or a pithy text message?

CM: I disagree with Michael on this one. My perspective is that we will need seminaries more in years to come. In his book, To Change the World, James Davison Hunter has convinced me that serious study and education is essential. Think, for example, of the Protestant Reformation. On the theological and pastoral level, teachers in the universities led it.

However, from my own seminary experience, there is much to be changed in the seminary system if it is going to be truly effective. It must emphasize not only serious study of the Bible and theology, but also church history, liturgical traditions and practices, spiritual formation, and pastoral ministry. Stronger systems of apprenticeship need to be established so that students have spiritual guides and a vital community of prayer and edification throughout their seminary experience.

LD: I’ve been in a church led by a pastor who wasn’t trained in seminary. There was a definite shallowness of theology, so I would hate for the seminary system to be abandoned. On the other hand, even seminarians who go through internships meant to train them in the practicalities of ministry often seem to only be inculcated in how to be a church executive or how to run programs. A lot of pastors have so many “business” responsibilities that they don’t disciple those who will in turn disciple others.

So, I think it is a combination of seminary training, of being discipled and also discipling.

I would welcome the “collapse” of evangelicalism in many of its forms. You could close every Christian bookstore, cut off every Christian TV and radio program, cancel every CCM concert and get rid of every Christian band and song, and stop publication of the vast majority of popular Christian books, and it would not affect me one whit, nor do I think it would hurt the cause of Christ in the world in any significant way whatsoever. If all Christian politicians, pundits, and lobbyists who are out there in the media speaking out about culture war issues closed their mouths, I don’t think the country or the culture would suddenly go to hell in a hand basket.

First, that Christians have stopped leading culture in all its facets (art, science, literature, music, etc.) has had the dangerous effect of creating a vacuum that has been filled with … well, hostility. Not only are Christians not cutting-edge in leading culture, they are fair game for being ignored at best and victimized at worst. I fear we have settled for passivity and moderation in all things, including excellence and winsomeness.

Second, we Christians fight amongst ourselves way too much. Rousing discussions are one thing; vicious verbal assaults are another. Lack of unity in the Body of Christ destroys churches and the Church from within and does more to deter unbelievers from belief and than anything else in my opinion. Full Version Here

2 responses to “Post Evangelical Roundtable and Orthodoxy

  1. The following is a remarkable paragraph: I have five kids now, and my main desire for them is to avoid all the behavior-based Christianity I lived growing up. Yes, we teach them foundational, doctrinal things about why we believe what we believe, but ultimately my wife and I are trying to model an honest faith that is slathered in enough grace to give us freedom to wrestle with the tough questions.

    I am not sure what he means with “behavior-based Christianity,” but clearly, Orthodox education includes socialization for following and internalizing Orthodox behavior. If he means that behavior should not be a soulless empty shell, but be anchored in solid faith, I definitely agree. But IO wonder, do I detect an atitude I often see in less committed Jewish families, of turning away from the behavioral bubble, claiming that by exposing the kids early on to public school and irreligious culture, their faith will be stronger, deeper and truer. Whoever makes it through that boot camp surely has a truer, deeper faith, but the numbers who won’t get there are statistically most significant.

    IOW, I can’t imagine the solution being to throw the baby out with the bath water. If there is not enough faith, and behavior is mitzvat anashim milumada, then the solution isn’ to have less practice, but to have more faith talk.

    OTOH, his remark about “freedom to wrestle with the tough questions” rings very true for us. Stories about teachers making students feel that tough questions are not welcome, are legion, and those are very damaging experiences.

  2. You can’t eat your cake and have it too. If the most important thing is right practices, it’s inevitable that teachers will discourage difficult questions. After all honest engagement and struggle often subverts practice.

    The reality is that we don’t have all the answers, and no faith does. The confrontation between uncertainty and the soul can be avoided, or embraced, but it cannot be resolved. The idea that we can be simple in our faith and loyal in our practices has much less traction today.

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