Evangelical Collapse Damned Unlikely

Michael Spencer, a self-evowed evangelical Christian, predicts the end of his kind.

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.

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.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. 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.

And he says it’s their own fault. By failing to rigorously enough instill core Biblical values in their children and foolishly trying to blend in with the secular world with such newfangled ideas as rock-and-roll music, they’ve corrupted their own tradition. And tying themselves in with conservative politics hasn’t helped, either.

Stacy McCain, a Baptist, and Rod Dreher, a follower of the Orthodox traditon, give takes from the perspective of a believer.   As an outsider looking in, though, I’m dubious.

The trends to which Spencer points have been with us since, oh, the Enlightenment.  Modernity is inherently hostile to religiosity, especially the more literal forms.   Yet, religion seems to have survived despite the pressures from the secular world.

Indeed, I would argue, precisely because of it.  People naturally rebel against the smarty pants set.  As I noted when Barack Obama created a backlash with his remarks about “bitter people who cling to god and guns,”

Class bias works both ways. Urban elites tend to view rural America, especially Southerners, as a bunch of yahoos. Rural Americans, meanwhile, think big city types are elitist snobs who don’t love America. There are similar resentments between rich and poor, educated and not, and even Ivy League – State College. In private gatherings, where people think they are among the like-minded, one hears shocking bigotry along those lines.

Will the elites become more openly anti-religion in the coming years?  Probably.  But that’ll just spur a backlash.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the ranks of the evangelical churches grew as a result.

Photo by Flickr user nika, used under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    The United States has been home to multiple nonconformist, i.e. non-orthodox, denominations since before there was a United States. The reasons are various. A lot of religious nonconformists were sent here. We’ve got a higher degree of religious freedom than the mother country had. Isolation.

    A lot of these denominations flourished in isolation but have found harder sledding in our much more highly connected world. Remember that there are lots of areas in the country that didn’t have telephone service 50 years ago.

    I think we’ll continue to have a lot of non-orthodox Christians here for the foreseeable future. However, I also think that many of them will turn to orthodox denominations (if only for social reasons) or nothing at all.

    It’s also possible that exactly the reverse will happen. Greater connectivity means that virtual communities of adherents become possible.

  2. legion says:

    I don’t think we’ll see a collapse in Evangelism per se, but rather a dropoff of the major moneymaking evangelical organizations/megachurches.

    This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. 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.

    Jesus, protect us from your followers. What this guy, and many of the most evangelical types, don’t get is that Atheists don’t want Christianity – or religion in general – stomped out or outlawed (and after that, they’ll start outlawing competing religions. The current infighting in the GOP is_ nothing_ compared to what you’d see if guys like Spencer had their way). What they mainly want is to be left alone to follow their own path without someone else’s religion being shoved down their throats at every turn. The problem is, many evangelicals do want atheism outlawed. And declare anyone who doesn’t share their extremism on that one issue to be ‘the enemy’.

  3. Dave Schuler says:
  4. odograph says:

    Social trends do turn, over the decades. I give the guy points for being ballsy enough to call it.

    … but there is no particular reason his call has to be right. It’s a lot harder in fact to call the end of any trend, than it is to make the safe bet that it will continue.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    I think the term “evangelical” is ambiguous. At the time of the reformation, it was the most frequent term used by those people later labeled protestants. But IIRC something like 20% of Catholics according to one poll described themselves as Evangelicals. I think the term is used by some to describe religious enthusiasm. Others use it to identify their beliefs as similar, but not the same, as Christian fundamentalism. Others simply to distinguish themselves from fundamentalism.

    In short, one could massively change the portion of Evangelical Christians merely by nailing down what the term means.

  6. RSD says:

    Religion is nothing more than the opiate of the masses.

  7. Michael says:

    It makes me think of this pie chart: http://www.squarestate.net/diary/3793/

  8. Sean Riley says:

    … I’m not so sure he’s wrong. He’s not predicting the collapse of the Evangelical church, at least, not as a whole. He still thinks the megachurches will survive.

    What he is arguing is a faith collapse, that the church has done a dreadful job teaching faith and theology, instead teaching causes and culture wars. That’s at least slightly true. Not totally — There’s a lot of theology being taught.

    I think he’s being overly apocalyptic, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some of his predictions regarding ‘marginal believers’ were true.

  9. RogerCfromSD says:

    Nice atheist barb, RSD. Feel better?

    Better yet, feel like contributing something thought-provoking to the conversation?

    My take on the future of “Evangelical” religion is that yes, it will diminish, but, other denominations will continue as they have been.

    However, all religions are currently under attack by guys like RSD; and so, we will see an increase in anti-religion propaganda as a whole in the near future. The primary focus of which will be anti-Christian.

    The liberals started it, the militant atheists want to help them.

  10. Michael says:

    Kind of late to the part Roger, OTB threads tend to die off after a few days.

    Oh, and there are no militant atheists. Most atheists don’t care what you believe, as long as it doesn’t effect them.