I have strong emotions on this one, and it doesn’t help that I’ve been contemplating mortality and the Void for several months. The Void sucks everything in. Only what is given by God survives the passage. What is dying this time? Evangelical identity. I’m not even going to try to argue that Evangelicalism is finished. There’s no shortage of reflections (for some time now too), far more insightful than anything I could offer, on the progress of this demise. (See here, here, here, and here.) These forecasts are not made by angry members of the family who feel disenfranchised or slighted and wish simply to lash out. I don’t feel disenfranchised or rejected at all, and yet I see and feel Evangelicalism’s mortality as clearly as I see my own. It’s time to recognize that Evangelicalism – as a movement – is now in hospice. Has been for some time.
Mind you, I’m an evangelical. Been in the family my whole life. My coming to faith, formative experiences, education, and now more than 30 years of ministry abroad and stateside have been within the Evangelical context. I love every part of this journey and continue to grow and enjoy my friendships, but I can no longer entertain its vision of cultural supremacy. We drank the Kool-Aid for too many years. What’s happening now is just the tumorous effects of decades of a carcinogenic theology that collapsed God’s dreams for the world into the American dream and the conservative Republican agenda. We invested our identity in the outcome of this marriage and it has turned an otherwise good movement (with admirable core beliefs grounded in the historical faith) into something as utterly irrelevant as we have now become. Today when people ask (when and if they ask it), “Where do we go for moral and spiritual inspiration and guidance?” they do not think of evangelicals. As a movement we no longer offer a compelling, beautiful, prophetic, inspiring vision of the world. In fact, nobody cares about or is moved, inspired, or morally challenged by what evangelicals say. We have no moral credibility. We’ve spent it all. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine us being any more irrelevant to our world than we are at the present moment. There are notable ‘individual’ exceptions among evangelicals, yes. But it’s too little too late. Evangelicalism is in hospice.
However, we needn’t abandon her to die alone staring out the hospital room window. I’m more pastorally inclined to attend her side up to the bitter end. As the structures crumble, increasing numbers of people will begin to look for a more personally authentic community centered on a simpler creed and an identity less beholden to the fortunes of political conservatism or to, well, anything in or of this world. Some have already made the move. I think many others will experience the Void in a profound way and rescue a truer Christian identity as their evangelical false self breathes its last. The faith of still others will not survive. And some, I imagine, will pretend the movement is still alive. They’ll point to growing pockets of evangelicals or to expanding multi-site mega-churches as well-produced as an evening of The Voice. And while God will meet sincere hearts wherever they are found, in terms of Evangelicalism’s relevancy as a prophetic and moral voice of conscience, as an other-worldly presence that convicts and awakens the indestructible image of God in all persons, evangelical growth here and there will be nothing but the appearance of life seen in decaying corpses. When life is gone, as the skin dries and recedes, the hair and nails are more exposed, giving the appearance of growth. Or like the Titanic. When she struck ice that ripped open her hull beneath the water line out of view, she was doomed then. People were still drinking, dining, and playing to beat the band, but the party was over.