The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, wrote an op-ed for the Christian Science Monitor (you know, the Mary Baker Eddy Christian Science Monitor — so it must be true), on the impending demise of evangelicalism.Â Â The piece has received lots of attention and been forwarded around the e-superhighway; I received at least three emails with links to it.
What accounts for the editorial’s popularity, aside from Matt Drudge having linkedÂ it on his site?Â One reason has to be Spencer’s contention that evangelicals have let politics overwhelm the gospel, and not just any politics, but the politics of the Right.Â Spencer writes:
Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.
This is, of course, true, but it is nothing new.Â American Protestants of the revivalist persuasion have long tied gospel proclamation to social reform.Â This was the argument of my advisor, Timothy L. Smith, in Revivalism and Social Reform.Â And this twin commitment to converted individuals and reformed society is what laid the foundation for the Protestant mainline, the ecumenical movement, the Social Gospel, and the compromise of historic Protestantism.
(Aside from the oddity of getting hysterical over a reality almost two hundred years old, Spencer does not seem to think itÂ possible to be a conservative Protestant and a conservative American without mingling or confusing those identities, seeing one as what’s good for the church, the other as what’s healthy about the American polity.Â But that’s a conversation for another time.)
Spencer’s conclusion is that evangelicalism needs a funeral.Â Still, he is hopeful.Â He thinks that if evangelicalism can find its charismatic self it can recover its spiritual vitality, and that ifÂ the evangelicals leaving the fold for Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism can still appreciate their evangelical pasts a basis for Christian unity may result.
We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.
Mark Galli, one of the editors at Christianity Today, drew the short straw and wrote a reply that proves precisely why Spencer is wrong, why evangelicalism will continue, why the gates of hell and the corridors of power will not prevail against it.Â Galli says that evangelicalism is:
a word that describes a phenomenon that transcends time and place. British historian David Bebbington talks about it in terms of certain theological emphases and behaviors (crucicentrism, conversionism, biblicism, and activism). I think of it more as a religious mood. It is a spiritual sensibility that includes pessimism about human nature, a longing to be converted from the worst of our selves, mystical moments when Jesus Christ is experienced, a conviction that nothing can be redeemed without suffering and that resurrection is ultimate reality, and a passion to make a difference in the world.
Galli adds that evangelicalism runs from Paul, to Anthony of the Desert, Francis of Assisi, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
And that is why evangelicalism will not go away.Â It is simply the beautiful vision of Christianity in the eye of the beholder.Â It is no respecter of creeds, churches, liturgies, or even scholarly analysis.Â It is the form of Christianity that lets me be me, or whatever I want it to be.Â Anyone can define evangelicalism any way they want.
Collapse?Â Heck, it’s never been healthier.