The Future of the Evangelical Church in America
Following World War II, American Christianity experienced a renewal movement called “New Evangelicalism.” It was really ground breaking in many ways as it broke away from liberalism and rigid dispensational fundamentalism.
The NE movement was a middle way that had a huge impact, especially fueled by the theology of the kingdom of God by George Elton Ladd. I was steeped in this kingdom theology and it still dominates my entire biblical worldview and mission in the world.
Out of the NE movement emerged two primary non-denominational seminaries: Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. My two graduate degrees are from these two seminaries. I earned my doctorate from Gordon-Conwell that concentrated on the history of church renewal movements under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Lovelace.
With the rise of NE, the majority of mainstream Protestant denominations absorbed and adopted a partnership with the left worldview and causes, and as a result they began to die.
I know, I lived through their decline as I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA. Although a few local mainline churches continue to be faithful to the one-way, absolute uniqueness of Christ and the objective truth of the Bible, the mainline denominations purged any significant influence of pro-life Evangelical cancer cells long ago.
The combination of the New Evangelical movement and the decline of the mainline denominations birthed the Evangelical non-denominational movement, including the rise of mega-churches in the 1980s led by Bill Hybels and George Barna and others.
I also experienced the rise of Evangelical mega-churches as I was a teaching pastor on the staff of a mega-church for 15 years that had around 4,500 people attending a weekend. It was a great church, and it had a tremendous impact in the Phoenix Valley of Arizona.
Along with the mega-church movement, a whole group of elite organizations and Christian leaders developed. Including large conferences, church consultants, magazines, and prominent authors. Over time they institutionalized and many of the mega-church leaders became big stars with the rise of the internet in the mid-1990s.
This Evangelical world–let’s call it Modern Evangelicalism–and its baby boomer leaders have continued comfortably up to our day. But in reality, this institutionalized Evangelicalism began to rot from within around a decade ago. The “Evangelical Establishment” is crumbling.
With the arrival of 2020, and the virus outbreak, government demands on the church, Antifa, BLM, and the rise of populism rooted in the working class under P Trump–this Modern Evangelical world is now breaking up.
What is important from my perspective is to realize that this split or divide was not caused by Donald Trump as many in the old guard of Modern Evangelicalism is trying to emphasize. Their comfortable ministry and popularity is waning, and they are feeling naked and helpless. So their message is, “just come back to the Modern Evangelical church and leave all that political populism behind. Let’s unify and continue on as we always have.”
THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Why? Because the stream of separation has been happening for at least the last decade.
Although I have no space to go into detail, I will give you some general categories to think through. I know they are not perfect, but they could be helpful to some.
In my view, Christians have three basic choices in today’s Evangelicalism (I know there could be more).
(1) To return back to the old Modern Evangelical churches with the same elite leaders, attend their conferences, and buy their books. I am not saying they are heretical, I am just saying that times change and their relevance is waning big time.
(2) To join with the left progressive churches, which are similar to the mainline churches and are led by many left over from the 1960s. Like Sojourners. They call themselves progressives, but they are nothing new.
(3) This is the category of churches that I believe will be the future of Evangelicalism. Characteristic of the Second Great Awakening and the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements, these churches will be made-up predominately by the lower/middle working class, of all ages and races. For the main problem in America is class not race.
I call it “populist Christianity” but you might have a better description. There will be a strong focus on biblical truth (kingdom theology) and a deep experience with the Holy Spirit, in gifts and power. Prayer and spiritual warfare will be normative. There will be an prominent emphasis on spiritual conversion and the born-again experience. These populist Christians will be active in the social/political public square because of the present globalist forces that continue to abandon them and their jobs for slave labor in China. They will also become the primary global missionaries in the future. In many ways, the kinds of churches I am describing here is the makeup of the global church.
Again, you might not agree, but it will give you some food (categories) for thought in your own experience today.