If you don’t get out in the blogosphere much anymore, you might be missing it, but there’s a bit of a hullabulloo going on about a new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) came out. The numbers aren’t good for any Christian, but they’re probably the most depressing for Evangelicals. For instance(*):
Since 1990, the last time the survey was conducted, the number of people who claim no religion at all has risen from 8% to 15%. In contrast, all of the mainline denominations have seen a significant decline in the number of people who describe themselves as participants. According to the survey, the number of Baptist declined from 19.3% to 15.8%. Methodists dropped from 8% to 5%…
But the guy that upset the apple cart was “post-evangelical” blogger Michael Spencer — HERE – that went for the big guns:
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.
Boy, now that’s the way to get everybody talking. (If you have time, peruse the 200+ comments on Spencer’s blog HERE or the 100+ on newly-Orthodox Rod Dreher’s blog HERE to get an idea of the aftershocks.)
And Spencer’s prognosis has an intriguing scrap for us non-Protestants:
Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the “conversion” of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
Well, that part might be good, even if it sounds far-fetched right now. But I’ve got two questions about Spencer’s idea that the Evangelical churches are done for:
- Isn’t this all a little sudden? I love a good death-knell-prediction as much as the next person, but it’s one survey. I don’t know much about the evangelical churches, so maybe this survey is just giving proof to what everyone suspected. All the same, I hate to see people set such a stock in surveys, which seem rife with the potential for misinformation.
- Wrong measuring rod? — In his section on why this will have happened, Spencer uses the world’s culture as the metric by which these churches will be found wanting:
Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. … The investment of evangelicals in the culture war will prove out to be one of the most costly mistakes in our history. The coming evangelical collapse will come about, largely, because our investment in moral, social and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses.
This just sounds like the same fear that modernist Christians have had for 50 years — that (lower case ‘o’) orthodox Christianity doesn’t meet the world’s standards for progress. Personally, I can’t see that it’ll matter. The world culture that Spencer thinks will be judging us for not being all for gay marriage, abortion and the rest is having its own set of breakdowns, panic attacks and internecine warfare. Just like religious people, secular people have a lot harder time believing in things than they used to. In their case, the “old religion” was the humanist one that said that secular progress would always lead to a better world. Or have we not noticed that the world’s culture is nearly bankrupt right now?
I’m thinking we all need praying for right now. At least the Christians know Who they’re praying to.