the lion of st mark
Reading Time: 8 minutes (The Lion of St. Mark, c.1516 by Vittore Carpaccio.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Recently, we’ve been checking out a ten-year prediction from the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, about the coming decline of evangelicalism. Along with that dire prediction, though, he also offered a ray of hope for his tribe. Through the power of Jesus-ing harder, they could come through the decline, albeit in reduced circumstances. But he was wrong. Today, let me show you why.

the lion of st mark
(The Lion of St. Mark, c.1516 by Vittore Carpaccio.)

(Today’s topic post archive: Page 1, Page 2, Page 3. Previous Internet Monk posts: Review of Predictions; The Endtimes Approach.)

“Christianity Loves a Crumbling Empire.”

The Internet Monk did not actually like a lot of elements of modern evangelicalism. He decried prosperity gospel and the push for a Republican-flavored theocracy. He perceived “the evangelical circus” as being antithetical to what he considered TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. And hooboy, he did not like megachurches much.

Naturally, he thought the collapse of evangelicalism would certainly involve the loss of those elements and members he disapproved of. That was fine, since those elements and members had, he thought, caused the collapse to begin with. Toward the end of his essay, he tells us:

Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, “Christianity loves a crumbling empire.” [<— he means evangelicalism, I suspect]

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.

We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture.

And one must ask:

In what mythical time have evangelicals ever learned from the past or cared what their imaginary friend put in the Bible? 

It seems to me that refusing to learn from the past and creating an imaginary friend who 100% approves of everything they want (like keeping slaves, for the Southern Baptist Convention that educated the Internet Monk) are intrinsic features of evangelicalism. More to the point, they always have been so.

That said, another element of the evangelical psyche involves their fixation on Jesus-ing harder as the solution to all problems. 

Jesus-ing Harder: The Forever Solution.

No matter what the problem might be in evangelicalism, greater fervor always seems to be the go-to solution to it.

Racism? It’s an individual-sin problem, which means more intense fervor will utterly solve it.

Sexism? Men just need to get more fervent about Jesus to use their unearned, unilateral power properly.

Bigotry? If a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ expresses bigotry in a way that gets more snarly than the rest of them consider acceptable, then obviously that person has gotten too lax in their fervor.

Dishonesty? No Christian with the correct amount of fervor will ever be able to be dishonest.

Anger? Same. Give it all to Jesus and fix your eyes on your imaginary friend!

The same goes for every other hypocritical behavior under the sun. Rarely do these advice sources demand huge changes in devotions, nor any large-scale systemic changes or even any major personal growth (quite the opposite). Perhaps some minor change in doctrinal beliefs is in order if the hypocrites involved believe something slightly different. Otherwise, the solution comes through simply hyping oneself into a greater state of devotional belief.

Everything’s fixed through Jesus-ing harder, in evangelicalism. And once everyone is Jesus-ing just as hard as they can, then our world will be oh-so-wonderful!

Of course, nobody can Jesus perfectly well — it’s that sin nature thing again, donchaknow. But the closer Christians can get (and force everyone else to get), the better off everyone will be!

The Vision of Jesus-ing Harder.

As the ickie consumeristic elements of evangelicalism died away, the Internet Monk openly hoped for a radical, sold-out, Jesus-to-the-max new evangelicalism. While he recognized that many evangelicals would simply push harder on their culture wars, he hoped to see something different emerge in the place of those disastrous power grabs:

Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.

It’s a hell of a vision. He speaks in his essay of churches that decide to go a very different direction after their loss of dominance, too:

Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart? Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership. We must change the conversation from the maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate ones.

I wonder if he knew that even in 2009, it wasn’t just “marginal believers” leaving?

And, too, the Internet Monk hoped for an evangelicalism that cultivated what he called “integrity,” writing:

The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of “empire subversion” will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.

None of that has actually happened, of course. Nor will “new forms of Christian vitality and ministry” come along to shake and rattle evangelicalism to its foundations. And neither will these new TRUE CHRISTIANS™ entice untold numbers of Americans through their church doors through the sheer power of their Jesus Auras.

Why Jesus-ing Harder Doesn’t Work.

In every case, evangelicals consider fervor itself as the solution to every single problem in humanity. There’s a reason why.

Christians have a lot of trouble accepting the idea of a fellow Christian who believes all the correct doctrines with exactly the correct level of intense fervor (which means an idealized version of themselves) and yet still commits despicable acts of hypocrisy. That situation shouldn’t ever happen! And yet it does, constantly.

There’s a reason for that, too.

Since nothing in Christianity tethers to reality, there’s no mechanism leading from intense belief to actions. Fervor is evangelicals’ pixie dust.

Perhaps that total lack of connection to reality leads evangelicals to demand busy-work full of magical thinking in order to bring about big sweeping changes to themselves and their groups. Indeed, no mechanism leads anyone from The Love Dare and its busy-work assignments to a harmonious, mutually-fulfilling relationship.

The authors admit that fact too, by the way. They demand a conversion to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ midway through the assignments. To sell the demand, they tell readers that without fervor, nobody can possibly hope to have a happy marriage. But not once in the book did I see any explanation for how that works.

The Prediction That Failed the Hardest.

The Internet Monk hoped fervently for “a vital and growing house church movement,” and by that phrase I assume he means home churches that Jesus the Jesus-Jesus the way he preferred. He hoped for a new wave of evangelicals who learned from past mistakes and cared about what the Bible said their imaginary friend wants from them. In his “What will be left?” section, he even writes about this Remnant:

A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from its demise through theological renewal. This is an attractive, innovative, and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing, and leadership development.

Yikes. Weird how Christians always seem to know exactly what “theological renewal” will mean, isn’t it? His version is obviously the correct one. Jesus is so lucky he came along!

our denomination set things aright
Saji George, “Tom’s Doubts #14.” (Sept 2011) Obligatory.

Still, that hasn’t happened — nor will it. None of it.

At least, not on any greater scale than it already has. Evangelicals haven’t cared about this stuff up to now, so I don’t see them magically noticing it anytime soon.

Not What the Flocks Signed Up For.

Within Christianity, we’ve always found a few odd ducks who weren’t like the others. That’s inevitable, given how many quirky, weird li’l takes on the religion there can be and how many believers there are. Almost every Christian alive is certain that their quirky, weird li’l take on the matter is the correct one, naturally. (See obligatory cartoon, above.)

Evangelicalism is no different. There’ve always been some evangelicals who rejected the culture wars and tried to be more decent-hearted than their peers in the sheepfold. Rachel Held Evans was one of those odd ducks, before the tribe ran her off. Jen Hatmaker may face the same fate.

However, these few names and church groups have utterly failed to move the needle on evangelicalism. (Here’s why.) In fact, evangelicals have gotten considerably worse-behaved and more hypocritical since the Internet Monk made his predictions in 2009. And I think his hopes will never come to pass because the flocks have made crystal-clear that they just don’t want to do any of that kinder-gentler stuff.

Evangelicals don’t join their groups to work or to sacrifice anything dear to themselves. They join up for a lot of reasons, but almost all of them are selfish and personal in nature. That has always been so, and it will continue to be so.

What’ll Really Happen.

Since we’re on the topic of predictions anyway, here’s what I think will happen to evangelicalism and evangelicals:

  • They’ll continue to bleed members — that process probably won’t bottom out for a few more years.
  • Sex scandals will continue to erupt within their ranks, and these scandals will get more and more serious.
  • Evangelicals’ credibility will continue to tank utterly, due mostly to their hypocrisy and their scandals.
  • They’ll unfortunately continue to hold much more political power than they should, but that will stop eventually — once they consistently fail to deliver votes to their pandering, purchased politicians.
  • The judicial power part will be a problem for a longer time. But not forever.
  • Conspiracy nutters will get worse. But remember, their groups all bleed members all the time — while younger people walk away in greater and greater numbers every generation.
  • Not one reputable research group will give evangelicals a single chance of regaining their onetime dominance. None do now, but none will in the future, either. Chances are very good that we’ll learn they were way too generous in estimating the decline.
  • Give it about ten years, maybe 20, and people will be viewing SBC-style fundagelicals with the same disdain and pity that they offer to Appalachian snake handlers. And they will be very nearly as irrelevant to our culture as their fringe-dwelling cousins are now.

In other words, it’s fairly good news as I see it.

Hang in there, friends. The signs are there. The writing’s on the wall. Narcissists and authoritarians alike tend to act out worse as their power declines, which is indeed what we’re seeing nowadays. But it won’t — can’t — last forever. They just don’t have the numbers anymore to maintain this latest cultural assault for long.

NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides! And then, I think we’ll check out an ethics question that rocked a certain Christian subreddit recently.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...