In a comment to Matt’s post, Michael Spencer says:
I don’t believe I, or any other post-evangelical, is saving or perpetuating evangelicalism. I’d gladly go out any number of doors were those doors available to me.
Post evangelicals like Patrol and myself are endeavoring to help evangelicalism hear the voice of the de-churched, discouraged, unplugged and estranged in its midst. Hearing those voices is important. As irritating as it can be, there is something that needs to be heard. Post-evangelicals are not feigning some kind of authority to remake evangelicalism or to blame someone for the demise of evangelicalism. The other shoe has dropped. The collapse is happening. There are churches that will thrive and there are churches that will never know anything happened. But there will be a quiet departure of millions of former evangelicals to something- or nothing- else.
That’s all there is to say, and I don’t pretend it is anything earth-shaking. For me and many like me, we’re living in another reality than what is typically discussed among more hopeful evangelicals.
The idea that collapse of evangelicalism is currently underway is more wishful thinking on the part of “post-evangelicals” than anything that can be backed up with evidence. For some reason it has become a staple of online commentary to translate one’s feeling of “I don’t like X” to “X is dying.” It’s usually found in political discussions (e.g., conservatism is dying; the Democratic Party is dying) but has been making its way into the religious sphere.
I suspect that the truth is just the opposite. There are more people that attend a Willow Creek associated church than there are “post-evangelicals” in all of America. Even on Spencer’s group blog, Boar’s Head Tavern, you are unlikely to find more than a fraction of the fellows who would claim the “post-evangelical” for themselves. And as for Patrol, they represent the thoughts of about a half-dozen young people in New York, some of whom work get paid by evangelical organizations (which makes you wonder why they would be gleeful about a decline).
Ironically, what Spencer claims for post-evangelicals (he includes Patrol but they are not really even Christian anymore, much less post-evangelical*) is really just a strain of evangelicalism that has a long history. Everything from the Jesus movement to the seeker-sensitive movement has had the goal of “endeavoring to help evangelicalism hear the voice of the de-churched, discouraged, unplugged and estranged in its midst.” Paint it with a patina of post-modernism if you want, but post-evangelicalism is still just Willow Creek without the crowds or the budget.
I do however agree with Spencer that there is a “quiet departure of millions of former evangelicals to something- or nothing- else.” As our culture becomes increasingly more individualistic we are seeing an increase in the the belief that the church should conform to people’s whims rather than the expectation that they form themselves to fit into a community and tradition (the fact that post-evangelicals think there is no community or tradition worth preserving says much more about them than it does about evangelicalism). Most of the disgruntled will move into the churches that have already been established to serve their de-churched needs (young people will go to the emergent movement, Yuppies will go the Willow Creek route). Others will cross over to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Still others will just decide they can worship God in their own way—or not at all (which seems to be the path Patrol is headed).
The real question we should be asking ourselves is why the dissenters get so much attention. If a thousand students in Campus Crusade for Christ were to claim that evangelicalism was thriving on colleges across the land, people would sneer and say they were clueless and naïve. Yet four twenty-somethings in New York can say that evangelicalism is over and adults—who should know better—rush to say how we should listent to them since they have their pulse on the culture.
Perhaps its simply that people prefer to hear stories about decline rather than being told that the status quo—for better or worse—is remaining the status quo. If that’s the case, let me make an pronouncement: Post-evangelicalisms is dead. Time of death 2:01 EST on November 16, 2009.
Now that post-evangelicalism has died let’s welcome the new, new thing: Post-post-evangelism. Wherever someone is discouraged by the new-Calvinists, unplugged from Chris Tomlin hymnody, or estranged from the embarrassing evangelicals who ruined everything, you’ll find our church planters at work. New churches will be forming in a tavern, strip mall, or URL near you. Check your local listings.
*The editors of Patrol recently wrote: “As we try to make quite clear, we have no interest in the term “evangelical.” We accept the label “post-evangelical” mostly out of convenience, though it is only a rough way to describe the ragtag collection of evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and agnostics we represent.”