March 10, 2009
Is the decline of religion in America a sign of the death of evangelicalism?
In the last 24 hours, USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor have both released less than cheery articles on the future of faith in America.
"The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation," reports Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today. "The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers - or falling off the faith map completely."
The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found that, "despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990."
That means that religious people are not simply being redistributed from one religion or denomination to another, but that more and more people are abandoning all faith altogether.
According to ARIS findings, "So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists." (You can read the rest here.
Bleak news, perhaps. But not as bleak, or specific, as Michael Spencer's observations at The Christian Science Monitor. Spencer argues, "We are on the verge - within 10 years - 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."
Spencer's predictions do not end with the fate of evangelicalism. He sees antagonistic political postures and declining public support of evangelical Christianity on the horizon. "This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West," he writes. "Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good."
According to Spencer, the result will be that "evangelicalism [will] look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success."
Spencer may show his cards when he prophesies the hope for the church's future: "We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century." (Read the rest here.)
Together these articles raise interesting questions. Is the decline of religious adherence in the U.S. a sign of the death of evangelicalism? Or is it an opportunity for the gospel? From where you stand, do you see evangelical Christianity on course to certain demise, or is there hope for maintaining the movement in its current form? What needs to change? What must we preserve? Remember, keep it short and keep it civil.